Learn to Trust

As a horse riding instructor I get several calls from people inquiring about lessons. Some calls result in a new consistent student, other people take a lesson or two and may occasionally come back for infrequent help, while still others list a whole bunch of reasons why they are not ready for lessons right now, but maybe when they can get to a better place with their horse, then they will feel ready. These initial reactions from the callers sound very similar to the way we approach a relationship with God. You can infer the resemblance when it comes to church attendance but this can also apply to those of us who are consistent attendees, church members, and professed believers. I always tell these lesson tire-kickers that it’s in the ugly times in the training with your horse that you need instruction. Don’t wait until you think you have it together. And even so it’s also in the good times that instruction is beneficial or there will be no growth. Are you facing a trial in your life right now? Or does everything seem to be going well? Either way we all struggle with humbling ourselves, giving up control of every aspect of our lives- the good and the bad- and to finally admit that we need Jesus.

Christ came for the sinners. He dined with the tax collectors, healed the infirm and possessed, conversed with a Samaritan woman, and literally overturned the old traditions of the religious leaders. You see, the Pharisees thought that they had it all together and didn’t need Jesus, while the messy people had a greater understanding of their need for the Messiah. The truth is they both needed Christ. If you wait until you have yourself in a good place you will never reach out to God. There is a song we sometimes sing at church titled “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” with a verse that reads:

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,

Lost and ruined by the fall;

If you tarry till you’re better,

You will never come at all.

As fallen human beings we do not have the ability to perfectly follow the law and earn ourselves salvation. As fallen human beings we cannot make ourselves righteous before God. As fallen human beings we have become slaves to sin. We are not able to pull ourselves out of our miserable state by our own bootstraps. We need Jesus. Jesus fully kept and fulfilled the law. Jesus is completely righteous and blameless. Jesus has set us free from the bonds of sin. By Him living the holy life and taking the punishment for our sin, we are gifted salvation by faith.

But what is involved in this faith? What do I have to do to receive this salvation? That’s just it. It’s not about what you have to do, but about relinquishing everything to Christ. Surrender your life to the Spirit and He will transform your life. Surrender your life to the Spirit and He will bring you wisdom and discernment. Surrender your life to the Spirit and He will sanctify you and cause you to grow. Do not underestimate the power of God but come to the reality of your own.

My pastor just gave a sermon on Zechariah the priest and his response when he received the news of his coming son from the angel Gabriel in Luke chapter 1. He and his wife were described as walking blamelessly in all the commandments of God. His wife was barren and they had been praying for children, yet now they were old and beyond child bearing years. Yet when Gabriel reveals to him that his wife will bear a son, Zechariah is overwhelmed with unbelief. This man who seemingly had it all together with God doubted when presented with God’s promise. Because of this unbelief he was struck mute for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy while the Lord fully brought about His promise. You see, we need to stop denying the truths laid down in His word, “shut up,” and let God do His work. Give up control of every aspect of your life to Him and simply follow.

As I was blowing the multitude of leaves in my yard one day and dwelling upon these things I came up with an acronym for faith:

Follow

Attentively

In

The

Hope

You are not the one calling the shots. You are not the creator and king of the world. Follow the One who is and stay attentive to His word. Follow attentively in the hope of His promises. Follow attentively in the hope of His grace. Follow attentively in the hope of His power, and His love, and His resurrection, and His kingdom, and His sovereignty.

In training horses, sometimes the greatest moments of the ride come immediately after the ugliest. The ugly moments are caused by the horse trying to take over and do what he wants. Sound familiar? The horse attempts to evade going straight or forward as the rider stays consistent with the aids asking him to do so. As the horse tries different ways to achieve his own desires he is faced with persistent corrections from the rider. As soon as he succumbs his will to that of the rider, the ugly is gone and he is rewarded with softness. The entire ride becomes harmonious when the horse willingly follows the direction of the rider from start to finish. Are you in an ugly moment right now? Or even a good one? Are you following attentively in the hope provided by His direction? I’m not saying it will be an easy ride. The horse still has to push through the discomfort that comes from building up strength. He has to be stretched and contracted in order to advance in his training. He has to learn to trust through new and confusing situations. We are not promised an easy life, but we are called to trust in the Lord. Give the reins over to God. Through every time and every season, the ups and the downs, follow attentively in His hope.

Invest the Time

I start by talking sweetly as I amble up to her in the pasture. She pricks her ears forward in response to my voice and allows me to slip the halter up on her nose and over her ears. Once on the cross ties in the barn, I relieve her of her fly mask and scratch along the underside of her jaw to her chin. She responds by stretching her neck out and twitching her upper lip from side to side in satisfaction of finally having this unreachable spot itched. After a thorough curry (where more lip twitching occurs as I discover her itchy spots under her belly and between the legs), I flick her clean of dirt and loose hair with a long bristled brush. Using the wooden end of the brush, I run it back and forth along the underside of her belly with pressure causing her to lift her back and stretch her spine. She positively responds in her aforementioned way. After I clear her feet of debris, I drop the cross ties with a carrot in hand and step to one side of her. She begins to turn her head and neck toward me. I encourage her to take her time with the stretch. Slowly she reaches back toward her flank and is occasionally rewarded with the sound of stuck vertebrae loosening. I appreciate how she doesn’t rush this process, as those of you who stretch before exercise can attest: one cannot reach the full range of motion in the first attempt but goes partway, pauses, and as the muscles loosen can reach even farther. By doing this she is able to stretch not just her neck, but all the way along her back and into her hips. Once both sides are stretched and the carrot is exhausted, I saddle her.

As soon as I am donned to ride with boots on and helmet fastened, the final stage of our pre-mount routine is bridling. Dropping the cross ties once again I loop the reins over her neck and take off the halter. She takes advantage of this post-halter pre-bridle freedom and usually throws in a few yawns to stretch out her jaw before the inevitable bit-in-mouth and snug cavesson. Again, I give her all the time she needs. Once she is satisfied with herself she takes the bit and stands quietly for me to get all the buckles and straps to snuff. Once mounted, we take a hack around the farm and down the drive on a loose rein to slowly warm up her muscles. After a sufficient trot and canter warm-up consisting of long leg-yields, trot stretching, transitions, and sometimes cavaletti, I give her another free walk before the workout truly begins.

Peppering the ride with frequent yet business-like walks and numerous pats for good performance, we end our under-saddle portion with another hack around the farm. Back in the barn and free of tack, we repeat our carrot stretching routine- taking advantage of the gained warmth and looseness of her muscles to gain a deep stretch. After a thorough brushing or hosing as the case may be, I lead her back out to the pasture where she is left to her own devices- typically consisting of covering herself again in mud.

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My Lola

This is my daily routine every time I ride. Aforementioned was with my mare, Lola, who in 3 short years has gone from unbroken to schooling 4th level Dressage and feeling fabulous. This gets repeated with every other horse I ride. Now, I know the feeling of being crunched for time and wanting to just throw the tack on, hop up, ride, and be done with that task for the day. After a long day of work and too many things left on the to-do-list, it can be tempting to squeeze this sometimes inconvenient task of working a horse into the schedule. With a horse that is not stall bound it would be better to just skip the ride then to rush through and work a horse with cold, tight muscles. This would be doing more harm than good. Horses that live in stalls require a daily exhibition to stay as healthy as possible. If pressed for time, I would recommend not skimping on the pre or post-workout routine but shortening or even skipping the hard work portion of the ride, and rather leaving it with a long and low warm-up and free walk.

I stress this because riding is a relationship between the horse and rider. There are above stated physical benefits to proper stretching and warm-up routines, but you will notice a better emotional connection as well. Slowing down to take the time to develop this relationship with the horse will ultimately improve your riding and how well in-tune you are to the horse physically and otherwise. The horse will associate pleasantness with his rider and enjoy the time he spends with her as she scratches his itches, loosens his tightness, and increasingly makes him physically stronger and straighter.

Now, I know you all have family and friends. How much time do you devote to developing those friendships and relationships? Taking the time to make a phone call, pen a note, bake some cookies, meet for coffee, etc. can go a long way to deepening and acknowledging a friendship. As I write this I am sitting beside my friend in the hospital who just underwent surgery. Though she is currently sleeping and her stay has been for a few weeks, I have carved out time in my busy farm schedule to spend a few hours with her every day. She brightens as I walk in the room and just knowing that she has a visitor makes her feel much better. I will be the first to admit that I have struggled with taking initiative to keep relationships active. I secretly hope that the other person will reach out to me. This is not selfless love.

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courtesy of Rustic Images

 

I am amazed at how much horses have taught me. Dwelling upon my routine and why I do what I do with them everyday has revealed to me the importance of doing this with everybody. Why do I do it with animals and yet fail to do it with humans? Or even with God? If I can take the time to advance the physical and mental health of beasts, most surely I can take the time to pursue the well-being of God’s greatest creation and with the Creator Himself. I have a friend in need…. the grass can wait.

Father, forgive me for all the times I have scanted in pursuing a relationship. You have commanded us to love our neighbor and even our enemies. Teach me to do just that. Light a fire within me to follow Christ’s lead of selfless love. Show me the ways I can reach out to others to bless them, or help them, or rejoice with them, whatever the situation may be. And in all circumstances, draw me closer to Your great power and love, so I may come to know You more.