Safe!

knockout after riding

Knockout after Saturday’s amazing ride!

It is time to clear our woods trails, again.

Brush is starting to encroach from the sides, narrowing the trails.  Overhanging limbs are extending lower, becoming riding obstacles.  As spring advances, it will only get worse until a trail ride becomes an obstacle course.

Those overhanging branches are a bit of concern in general, but especially when riding Knockout, our 7-year-old quarter horse (Can he really be seven? Wow!  2 ½ years doesn’t seem long from my perspective, but the difference in age between a 4-year-old colt and a 7-year-old horse is huge.  He can’t be called a colt anymore…he’s a young adult horse).

Knockout doesn’t like low-hanging branches…never has. He also doesn’t like branches brushing against my helmet as we ride.  He’s not nearly as reactive to them as he was two years ago.  Some days he ignores them completely.  Other times he’ll startle-in-place at the first few occurrences before settling down to ignore them.  Overall, the low-hanging branches are not too big a deal anymore.  But I still ride with an awareness of potential spooks and guide him thru a route that avoids unnecessary brushing against branches.

So, cleaning up the trails would make my rides a little more relaxed. Plus, it would open the trails back up to being able to ride two-abreast rather than single file.

I’ve learned trail clearing is best done from horseback. The horse becomes a mobile scaffold from whom high branches can be reached.  He also acts as a visual guide as to how high the branches need to be trimmed.

For clearing trails, a really calm, mature horse is needed…a horse who is perfectly comfortable standing under low hanging branches while I stand in the stirrups, reach around at odd angles with clippers, and drop small branches on his head.

Sonny, our 18-year-old paint, is the horse for trail clearing. Sonny can sometimes be a bit persistent in his wilfulness, but he is not spooky.  Sonny can be relied on to stay calm even in very distracting circumstances.

Last weekend, I had a (silent) conversation with myself that went something like this:

Me:        One evening this week, I need to saddle Sonny and go clean out those woods trails.

Self:       Sounds like a good idea!  Why Sonny?

Me:        Sonny stands calmly while I trim branches above his head.  I’ve used Sonny for this task before.  He’s the only horse I really trust for that sort of work.

Self:       Why don’t you take Knockout?

Me:        Are you nuts?  Knockout isn’t mature enough for that.  He sometimes startles at low-hanging branches.  Knockout’s concern with brush is a primary reason I want the trail cleared.

Self:       It sounds like you’re making excuses for Knockout.  How can he ever develop into the horse you want him to be if you keep making excuses for him?

Me:        I’m not making excuses.  I just don’t want to overwhelm Knockout and lose ground on all the progress we’ve made.  He trusts me and I don’t want to lose his trust.

Self:       So, start slow and build up.  Trim one small branch to the side, see how Knockout responds and go from there.  You’ll never know what he can handle if you don’t let him try.  You need to trust your horse.  This is a perfect opportunity to build Knockout’s confidence with low hanging limbs.

So that’s what we did.

Monday evening, I took Knockout on a trail ride and we trimmed trees for one full trail loop…including the super-scary trail thru the creek bottom at which Knockout used to always spook.

Knockout did great!  🙂

Knockout stood still while I reached out with the clippers and trimmed branches. He did not startle when the branches brushed my helmet or dropped on top of his head.  At times, I let go of the reins and stood in the stirrups to grasp a branch in my left hand while using the clippers in my right hand.  I often switched hands for better reach.  I often asked for a side-pass, shoulder turn, or hind-quarter turn to reach the next branch.  And Knockout bravely tolerated all of it.

To be clear…Knockout did not like it. He was not at all thrilled to duck under low-hanging branches.  He was hesitant about sticking his head in thick underbrush so I could reach the intended branch.

Sometimes, when I asked for a right side-step toward the brush, he responded with a left side-step away from the tree…clearly indicating he was uncomfortable with where I was asking him to go.  Yet, as I persisted asking for a right side-step, firming up as necessary, Knockout complied with my request.

Once positioned where I needed him, I dropped all pressure and he relaxed, standing quietly as I went about the task of trimming.  He stood quietly relaxed as branches dropped on his head, as leaves rustled overhead, as I drug branches out of clinging vines to cast aside.  And when I asked him to move he responded…sometimes hesitantly…but he responded.  And when I dropped pressure, he relaxed again.

I was quite impressed with Knockout’s courage!

It’s no big deal performing a task one is comfortable with.  It requires true courage to perform a task one is very uncomfortable with, then stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation.

How did he do it? How does a prey animal wired for flight perform a task he is clearly uncomfortable with?  How can he stand quietly at ease in the midst of a stressful environment?

Trust!

Knockout trusts me. It’s that simple.

Because he trusts me, Knockout is willing to go places he is uncomfortable going. Because he trusts me, Knockout can stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation, simply because he knows he is where I want him to be, and I am with him.

Knockout knows, when I am with him and he is where I want him to be, he is safe.

What was it Jesus said?

…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:27)

Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

Sometimes, God asks me to go places I am uncomfortable going. Sometimes, I find myself in very stressful situations.  My mother’s illness and departure from this world…my daughter’s surgery…my grandchildren in an automobile accident…addressing issues with my teenage stepson’s journey toward adulthood…health concerns of family and friends…political unrest…economic concerns…wars and terrorism across the globe…

This world is a scary place and I often find myself in stressful situations.

And yet…because He is with me I don’t have to be afraid. So long as I trust Him, I am safe.

 

Your thoughts?

 

My Mama

Last November, Mama fell and broke her hip. At 90 years old, any injury is a serious concern.  But Mama had recovered well from broken bones before and we expected a full recovery this time.

She started well, with good progress in physical therapy. She had a few setbacks, but seemed to overcome them and start back on track with high hopes.  But the setbacks became more frequent and more severe.  This past six weeks she has been back and forth between rehab and the hospital, with each step forward being followed by two steps back.

She was moved to hospice today. Her 90 year old body is worn out and her systems are starting to shut down.  My sister, Dorcas, explained the situation to her.  Mama responded, “That sounds good.”

Dorcas said, “Mama, you know that means you’re going to go to be with Jesus soon?” And she replied, “Yes. That sounds REALLY good.”

Dorcas told her she would miss her and Mama replied, “Oh, honey but you know where you’ll see me again!”

That’s my Mama!

Today, I’m reflecting on some of my many memories of this amazing woman, and how much impact she has had on my life. I’m thinking of the many things she taught me over the years.

I remember when I was four or five years old Mama taught me how to safely pin a diaper on my baby sister while making sure my fingers stayed between the tip of the diaper pin and my sister’s skin. Thinking back on it now, that seems like a lot to ask of a preschooler.  But what a gift!  While being taught to care for others, I was also entrusted with a huge responsibility.

Papa and Mama both taught me to love reading. But it was Mama who taught me to read.  I remember sitting on her lap with the big phonics book open, going thru the alphabet reciting letters and sounds, “A for apple ah; B for ball buh; C for cat cuh; D for dog duh;…”

Papa and Mama both taught me to love God’s word, but it was Mama who taught me to memorize scripture and learn the books of the Bible.

Mama taught me the joy of singing…to meet adversity by praising God. When the stress of motherhood threatened to get her down, Mama responded by breaking into songs of praise.

And Mama taught me to sing.

In a family of sixteen children I was the only one who couldn’t carry a tune. As a child I never knew the difference, but as a teenager I started to become aware how badly I was off tune.  When Mama realized how much it bothered me she sat down at the piano and walked me through favorite songs, one note at a time.  She would play each note over and over while I searched to find it with my voice.  When I finally hit the right note she would nod her head with a smile, “Good!” then proceed to the next note.  I don’t know how many hours she spent patiently teaching me to listen for the note and listen to my own voice.

Today, I couldn’t win any prizes for singing, but I can generally hit the right notes with a reasonable degree of confidence. And I have Mama to thank for that.

Mama taught me to stand firm in my convictions. From things as minor as making sure pagan-based customs were excluded from our Christian holiday celebrations to major issues such as school integration and standing against racism, we were taught at an early age to stand for what we believed no matter how unpopular our stance might be.

I have so much to thank Mama for!

But she may have saved the very best lesson for last. To live my life in such a way that when the end is near there is nothing left but love and thankfulness…what an amazing lesson!  What a gift!

I am so blessed to have her as my Mama!

The Lord is My Horseman

[A paraphrase of Psalm 23, by Joseph J. Pote]

The Lord is my Horseman;
I have everything I need.
He provides me with safe, lush, green pastures.
He directs my steps to places with plenty of fresh water.
He restores my sense of peace, safety and comfort.
He leads and directs my steps in the paths of His choice
To accomplish His purpose in my life.

Yes, even if I walk through a dark, narrow, gloomy valley full of dreaded spooks,
I will not be afraid, because You are with me.
Your seat in the saddle and Your grip on the reins comfort me and give me confidence.
You feed me fresh grain and nutritious hay in the middle of scary environments.
You groom me, caring for my coat, mane, tail, and hooves.
My water trough stays full to overflowing.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will live in the pastures of The Lord, forever.

counsel of horses

 

On Book Learning

I love reading. Few days go by that I don’t pick up one book or another for at least a few minutes of reading pleasure.

A few months ago, I wrote a post titled The Bibliophile specifically about my family’s love for books.  I have learned many things through reading books, and books are a big part of who I am.

So, when I decided to start pursuing horsemanship, I turned to books. I discovered and read several books by several different authors.  All were good and I learned from all of them.  I also discovered a treasure trove of YouTube videos on the topic of horsemanship, which were also very helpful.

But you know what? Books and videos can only carry a would-be horseman so far.  At some point, one must go out and spend time working with horses.

Many of the best horsemen refer to themselves as a student of the horse.  In using this phrase they don’t just mean they study horses.  Rather, they mean the horse is their instructor.  If one would learn of horses, one needs to be instructed by a horse.

Ray Hunt is one of my favorite horsemanship authors. I’ve read his book, Think Harmony with Horses, five or six times across a two-year span, and with each reading I gain new insights.

In this book, Ray stated,

To digest [horsemanship] goals in the capsule form a person need only know ‘feel, timing, and balance.’

Clearly, in Ray’s estimation, this was an extremely important concept. However, he went on to say:

But the truth of the matter is that just those three small terms take a lifetime of chewing before they begin to digest. Though I will use them often, I will not attempt to provide the reader with a concrete description of any of them, for to me they are as abstract and elusive as the candle in the tunnel. What “feel” can be to a 4-H child today, with more chewing, each day it will be different. The same is true of a more advanced rider. As the rider grows in awareness and insight, so will the definition of these terms. Each person, in the final analysis, will write his or her own definition day by day. Although I cannot give you “feel,” I hope to fix it up to help the reader, or rider, find his own definition.

Basically, within his book written for the purpose of teaching horsemanship, Ray Hunt confessed the most fundamental part cannot be learned from a book. It must be learned experientially from a horse.

Accordingly, after reading Ray’s book, I spent time working with my horse. Then I came back and read the book again…and learned it made more sense than in the first reading.  The same has been true of each subsequent reading.

Although I can learn a lot about horses by reading books, I can only come to know a horse by spending time with a horse.  I have to learn to listen to my horse.

I can learn a lot about horses by reading books. I can only come to know a horse by spending time with a horse. Click To Tweet

The same is true of most things in life. We can learn a lot from other people’s experiences shared in books, videos, or verbal communication.  Such book learning can start us on the right path and continue to guide us as we work thru real-life issues.  Ultimately, though, we only truly learn by doing.

Book learning can only take one so far. To really learn, one must do.

Book learning can only take one so far. To really learn, one must do. Click To Tweet

This is not a difficult concept, and I think most people would readily agree.

So, why do so many people seem to expect something different of the Bible?

Like most Christians, I have a deep reverence for the Bible as God’s word…God’s revelation of Himself, written by men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

I am sometimes surprised, however, at how many Christians seem to believe the Bible is the end of God’s revealing of Himself and His will to us. These Christians seem to live with no expectation of God ever communicating with us as individuals.  They seem to expect prayer to be strictly a monologue and are suspicious of anyone saying God spoke to them about anything.

More concerning, these Christians seem to have no confidence whatsoever in the power of the Holy Spirit to give discernment and wisdom to God’s individual children in regard to specific situations in their personal lives. They seem to live their lives as though Christ’s admonition, “My sheep hear my voice” was not relevant to us, today.

As a result, they tend to turn to the Bible in search of definitive direction for every life circumstance. They tend to build legalistic doctrines filled with intricate rules and exception clauses (falsely) believed appropriate for application to all of life’s circumstances.

These folks tend to be very dogmatic in stating their beliefs…very closed to other people’s perceptions…very insistent that their view is the only legitimate view and anyone with a differing view is in error. They have a tendency to pluck support for their doctrines out of context…expecting to find answers to questions that are not addressed in their referenced passages.

These folks treat the Bible as though it were an owner’s manual for how to live life, rather than a revelation intended to lead us into intimate relationship with our Creator. They attempt to use the Bible as though it were a series of flow-charts with clear predefined decision-making logic intended to cover every circumstance in the human experience, rather than a book of revelation leading us to wrestle with heart-rending decisions in sometimes horrific circumstances while clinging tenaciously to faith in the goodness and faithfulness of an invisible God.

Why? Why do the beliefs and expectations of these fellow believers differ so drastically from my own?

They put their faith in book learning. I put my faith in the One who inspired the book.

I don’t expect the Bible to be a guide in all of life’s circumstances. I expect the Bible to guide me into intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit who leads me in all of life’s circumstances.

Just as in horsemanship, the most fundamental part cannot be learned from a book. It must be learned experientially from the Holy Spirit.

I can learn a lot about God by reading the Bible.  I can only come to know God by spending time with Him…by talking with Him and listening to Him…by learning to trust Him and follow Him.

I can learn a lot about God by reading the Bible. I can only come to know God by spending time with Him Click To Tweet

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)

Scripture is only life-giving to the extent that it leads us to the Giver of Life.

Scripture is only life-giving to the extent that it leads us to the Giver of Life. Click To Tweet

Your thoughts?

 

Listen

I have learned “Listen to your horse” is a common phrase among many horsemen…almost a mantra of sorts…the catch-all solution to horse-human relationship issues.

Got bucked off?  Learn to listen to your horse.

Your horse won’t trailer load today?  Listen to your horse.

Can’t catch your horse?  Listen to your horse.

I’m being a little facetious.  There’s a lot more to problem solving than just throwing out a catch phrase.  Horsemen are not generally prone to over-simplifying issues.  We’re all looking for concrete solutions to real world problems.

However, “Listen to your horse” does come up a lot.  It’s a big part of solving issues and improving relationships.  It is through listening that minor issues can be appropriately addressed through small changes, before they become major problems.

But what does “Listen to your horse” even mean?  With the possible exception of Mr. Ed, horses are not talkative creatures.  Not only do they lack human speech, but aside from an occasional whinny they rarely verbalize anything.

Yet, horses do communicate.  They are very social animals and interact with other horses almost constantly.

Horses communicate through movement and body language.  The tilt of a head…the arch of a neck…the position of ears…the fluidity or choppiness of a gait…the attitude displayed in an approach…muscle tension…and so much more.

So, listening to a horse doesn’t have much to do with audible speech or use of one’s ears.  It has to do with paying attention with intentionality.  It has to do with an awareness of the horse’s movement and body language.  It has to do with being able to feel a change in muscle tension or fluidity of gait.  It has to do with being in the moment with intentional awareness.

Ray Hunt wrote about “take a feel of your horse” then “feel for your horse.”

Ray refused to even define what he meant by feel, timing and balance.  He said these were terms each horseman had to learn for himself…and that the definitions change over time.

Frankly, I was a bit uncomfortable with that.  It all sounds a bit mystical…a bit too horse-whisperer…too abstract…

I wasn’t looking for a spiritual connection with four-legged animals.  I just wanted to learn a little about training horses.

But listening is one of the most practical things a horseman can learn.  Yes, it is a bit abstract.  Yes, it is more art than science.  No, I’m not very good at it…but I’m a lot better than I used to be.

It is through listening that my interaction with a horse becomes a conversation rather than a demand.  It is through listening that my timing improves.  It is through listening that my horse and I learn to communicate with better responsiveness to lighter cues.  And it is through listening that I am able to address minor concerns before they become major problems.

It is through listening to my horse that my horse learns to listen to me.

It is through listening to my horse that my horse learns to listen to me. Click To Tweet

I’m also learning that this intentional awareness listening extends beyond horses.

It’s just as important with people.  With fellow humans, we tend to get a little lazy.  We’re so accustomed to communicating complex concepts through words that we forget to pay attention to subtler communication of body language and emotions.  We’re so distracted by making our point, or by external distractions such as smart phones, that we neglect to be in the moment with intentional awareness of the other person’s nonverbal communication.

And this intentional awareness listening also applies to prayer.

God has never yet directly spoken to me in an audible voice.  But He does speak to me.

If it makes you more comfortable, call it a prompting of the spirit…or a nudging…or a calling to mind of a scripture.  Preachers often talk about God’s call to ministry.  Whatever words are used we’re talking about God communicating directly with us, as individual believers, through the Holy Spirit.

Yes, He does that.  Jesus said He would.  The apostles said He would.  And He does.

The Holy Spirit speaks to me in ways similar to how my horse speaks to me…except different.  Much like my horse, God has thus far refrained from directly speaking to me in an audible voice.  However, God speaks to me in other ways.

He speaks to me through our animals.  Just read back through some of my blog posts and you’ll see it’s true.

He speaks to me through recalling scripture to mind.

He speaks to me through other people.

He speaks to me in difficult circumstances.

He speaks to me in my fear.

He speaks to me through things as simple as an empty gas tank.

He speaks directly to my spirit whispering words of comfort, love, and wisdom.

He sometimes gives me direction…a course of action I am to take.

He has, at least one time, spoken to me through angels…which I still feel a little weird about saying…but am convinced it is true.

Listening to God is similar to listening to my horse.  It requires intentional awareness and being in the moment.

God speaks to me all the time.  Sometimes, I’m paying enough attention to hear Him.

God speaks to me all the time. Sometimes, I'm paying enough attention to hear Him. Click To Tweet

I’m not big on New Years resolutions.  I’ve never done the Word of the Year blogging thing.

But one thing I for sure want to do better in the coming year is to listen.

 

Rules that Matter

counsel of horsesThe young horses tend to gather at the northeast corner of the pasture each afternoon. There, they tease each other, chase each other, and just generally enjoy each other’s fellowship.

One afternoon, the conversation drifted to discussing The Master’s expectations. Archie, the 2-year-old stud colt, pricked his ears at this topic.  Although Archie had spent time with The Master, his real training was just beginning.

Cinch, the young roan, believed himself an expert on all things related to The Master. After all, he had been trailered to rodeos and trail rides more than any of the other young horses.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Cinch, “when Master leads you through the pasture gate, he expects you to promptly spin your hindquarters to the left.”

“That’s for sure!” enjoined Sonny, the handsome paint horse. “That took me a while to figure out.  I used to sometimes get hung up halfway through the gate and just stand there wondering what to do.  It took me a while to figure out I was supposed to walk past Master, through the gate, swinging my hindquarters to the left.  I finally got it figured out, though.”

“Same here!” laughed Cinch. “Boy did I feel stupid standing there looking at The Master, wondering what to do.  You don’t want to make that mistake, Archie!  Take my word for it.  Every time Master leads you through the pasture gate, always promptly spin your hindquarters left.  Then, as Master closes the gate take one step back.  As Master leaves the gate, take another step back followed by a right shoulder turn as you fall in step behind him.  The smoother you learn to do all that, the better Master likes it.”

“Wow! That’s a lot to remember,” sighed Archie, as he contemplated the shame of getting hung up not knowing what to do.

“What if Master leads out the other pasture gate?” queried Buck, the little buckskin the Master’s grandchildren loved to ride.

“What are you talking about?” Cinch’s eyes narrowed and his ears swiveled back as though he’d just been challenged.

“I’m talking about that gate at the shed,” answered Buck, ignoring Cinch’s agitation. “That gate swings the other direction, and Master expects a right hindquarter swing as you come through.”

“That’s true!” agreed Knockout, the young sorrel who’d spent so much time riding the gravel roads with Master, in recent months. “On right-hinged gates, Master generally asks for a left hindquarter turn and on left-hinged gates he generally asks for a right hindquarter turn.  It all depends on the situation.”

“Oh my!” muttered Archie in wide-eyed wonder as he recited the growing list of rules, “Right-hinged left spin. Left-hinged right spin.  Then two steps back and follow through with an opposite-direction shoulder turn.”

“Exactly!” Buck confirmed.

“Guys! Guys!  You’re going to confuse the poor kid,” admonished Cinch.  “Can’t you see he’s feeling overwhelmed?  He can’t learn all the rules in one afternoon.  Master doesn’t use the shed gate often, anyway.  Let the poor kid focus on learning the rules for the main gate he’ll be using most of the time, anyway.”

“But,” responded Buck, “If he only learns half a rule, he’ll be even more confused when he encounters an exception. He needs to learn all the rules and all the exception clauses, or he’ll be lost.”

“Look,” countered Cinch, “I’m just saying it’s best to focus first on the normal expectations then let him figure out the exceptions later. We haven’t even got him out the pasture gate yet, and you’re already confusing him.  There’s a ton of other things he needs to learn.  Like, when Master takes you off property always turn right at the end of the driveway.”

“That’s for sure!” Sonny affirmed. “You may as well get that down right now, and save yourself a lot of trouble later.  End of the driveway always means a right turn.”

“One time, Master and I spent two hours circling the end of the driveway while I figured that one out,” chuckled Knockout.

“Except, one time Master took me left at the end of the driveway,” countered Buck.

Cinch swiveled to face Buck, ears pinned and nostrils dilated, “No way! That rule never changes.  It’s always right at the end of the driveway.  No exceptions!”

“I’m telling you,” Buck responded, “one time Master took me left, all the way to the blacktop highway, before he turned around and brought me back.”

Cinch glared indignantly at Buck, “No way! Master would never do that!  It sounds to me like you’ve been listening to the wrong master, Buck.”

“I know The Master, and I know where he led me. He went with me every step of the way,” Buck persisted.

“It’s true Cinch,” Knockout came to Buck’s defense. “Every once in a while, Master will take me left at the driveway, too.  I think he does it on purpose just to make sure I’m paying attention and listening to him.  He seems to like changing things up from time to time.  In fact, I’m not even sure we’re going about this discussion from the right perspective.  It seems to me Master is more concerned with my knowing how to respond to his cues.”

Facing Archie, Knockout continued, “Kid, the important rules to remember are Master’s cues. When Master squeezes your sides, move forward.  When Master presses your left side move right.  When Master presses your right side move left.  When Master pulls on the bit, stop and back up.  Those are the important rules.”

Wide-eyed, Archie recited the rules back, “Left side, right. Right side, left.  Both sides, forward.  Pull, stop.  Wow!  How will I ever remember all these rules and exceptions?”

A deep chuckle interrupted the discussion as the young horses turned to see LaDoux had approached unnoticed. LaDoux, the sorrel gelding with white spots either side of his withers, was the oldest and wisest horse in the pasture.  “You youngsters have a lot to learn!  Cinch, Knockout is much nearer the truth than you.  It’s not about learning a bunch of rules and exceptions.  It’s about listening to The Master and responding to his cues.”

As Knockout lifted his head and preened his ears forward in pride, LaDoux continued, “But that’s not the most important thing either, because cues sometimes change. Master likes to teach softer cues as we become ready to learn them, and sometimes new cues are required as we mature into new jobs.”

“Archie,” LaDoux continued gently, “There are only two rules that really matter. The first rule is to trust Master.  Really, really trust him, knowing you can do whatever he asks without worrying about anything.  The second rule is to watch out for other horses and treat each other with respect.  That’s all you really need to remember.  Master will teach you everything else you need to know.  In fact, when you forget these two main rules, Master will remind you of those as well.  Trust Master to teach you all you need to know and quit worrying about memorizing rules and exception clauses.”

On hearing this sage advice, Archie breathed a sigh of relief, felt his tense muscles relax, and sensed his worried emotions calm in renewed trust that Master will always care for him.

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Your thoughts?

 

Rein Management

On the drive to school or church, my stepson and I often talk of horses. The other day I mentioned how I thought Knockout would be really good at Western Reining, with his cow sense, athleticism, and cutting horse breeding.  Dawson responded skeptically, “Well, I’m not going to ride him!”

“Why not?” I asked, “Knockout’s no problem.  He’s very attentive and responds well to light cues.  Just don’t try to hold him.  He doesn’t like to be held and will sometimes panic…which can lead to bolting or bucking.”

“Then how do you get him to stop or slow down?” Dawson queried.

I explained Knockout and I have an understanding on the use of bit pressure. I always first give him an opportunity to respond to seat cues.  If he doesn’t take me up on the light stopping cue of sitting deep in the saddle, I will quickly firm up with rein pressure.  However, I never hold the rein pressure.  Once Knockout has responded as asked, I immediately release the pressure.

The pressure release lets Knockout know he gave the right response. It also gives him a reason to respond.  He escapes the bit pressure by responding with his feet…and responding with his feet always results in release of pressure.

Knockout and I both have our responsibilities. He responds to my cues.  I respond to his response by releasing pressure.  That way, Knockout always has a way out from pressure and never needs to feel claustrophobic or panicked.

Later that evening, I showed Dawson a short segment of a Carson James video in which Carson demonstrates rein management. In the video, Carson is backing a horse and shows how to hold the reins with slack (drooping slightly with no tension) but with very little travel (no excess slack).  Managing the reins in this manner allows the rider to keep slack in the reins while staying only an inch away from light pressure and only two inches away from heavy pressure.  So the rider can quickly and smoothly transition between varying amounts of pressure and instantly return to slack reins upon proper response.

Rein management is all about good timing in giving the right amount of pressure for the occasion, then instantly returning to slack reins with zero pressure.

A few days later, we were walking back to the trailer at the end of a high school rodeo when I pointed out Dawson’s tight reins, “Your horse would appreciate some slack in those reins so he can relax.”

“If I do that, he’ll trot off,” Dawson responded, dropping his reins to demonstrate.

“Stop him and back him up,” I replied. “Good!  Now drop your reins.”

So, we had a short little mini-training session right there in the fairgrounds parking lot. I showed Dawson how to catch the horse starting to walk forward, stop him, back him one step, then drop the reins.  After about four times, the horse stood relaxed on a loose rein.

“Now, lift the reins about a half an inch and lean forward slightly. When the horse starts to move, just move with him.”

We walked back to the trailer at a slow walk on loose reins.

Next weekend, we took an eight mile horseback ride together, paying close attention to slack reins at different gaits and working toward good response to light cues.

It was pretty awesome! 🙂

I’m still fairly new to this horsemanship stuff. My experience is pretty limited and I have a lot yet to learn.

I’m learning, though, that there are a lot of parallels between horsemanship and parenting ADHD teens.

Much like horses, teens don’t respond well to being held tightly. They need a little freedom to move and make some of their own decisions.

Much like horses, teens need relationship and understanding. Rules without relationship don’t work well for horses or teens.

Much like horses, teens need consistency. They need to be able to rely on encountering pressure when they fail to respond to light cues.

Much like horses, ADHD teens live very much in the moment. So pressure and release need to be well-timed to be effective.

Much like horses, teens need to feel the comfort of smooth relationship with minimal pressure when they’re doing the right thing. If all they feel is pressure no matter what they do, they’ll soon quit trying or blow up in exasperation.

This means…much as in horsemanship, I need to get really good at rein management in parenting, with alertness, balance, feel, and good timing.

I’m still learning…and so is he. Maybe we can figure this out together…with help from a couple of horses.  😉

Simple Answers

She graciously steered the conversation toward a topic she knew I like, “So, how do you make a horse go?”

I paused, pondering the question and possible responses. Honestly, the question would have been easier to answer a couple of years ago when I knew less about the topic…which meant I was probably overthinking the question.  Should I start with explaining I don’t make a horse do anything, I ask him?  No, she’d think I was just being nit-picky.  Should I talk about differentiating cues for different speeds?  No, she almost certainly meant moving from a standstill to walking and continuing to walk.  Should I start with explaining it depends on the horse’s level of training?  No, she was clearly referring to a well-trained horse.  It was asked as a simple direct question with expectation of a simple direct answer.

Unsure of my reason for hesitating, she reframed the question, “When you’re riding your horse, how do you get him to go?”

I latched onto the specificity of the reframed question, “Well…with my horse I usually just shift my weight slightly forward and maybe lift the reins a little. That’s usually all he needs.  If that doesn’t get a response, then I might nudge him a little with my legs or smooch him.”

It was a simple direct question expecting a simple direct response. My response was as simple and direct as I knew how to make it.  Yet I knew it likely had more qualifiers than she expected.  I also knew was a very incomplete answer…and not very useful.

It was a very incomplete answer...and not very useful. Click To Tweet

I knew the situation she was referring to. I’ve experienced it myself a few times.  A novice rider on a rented or borrowed horse starts out with a group of riders on a trail ride.  The borrowed horse falls behind the group and slows to a gradual halt.  The novice rider clicks, kicks, swats, or in some other way tries to prod the horse to move out.  The horse responds by picking up to a trot for a few strides then drops right back to a slow walk before stopping to browse on grass or leaves.

The answer I gave was a truthful answer, but of absolutely no use to a rider in such a situation. A horse that did not respond to clicks, kicks or swats was unlikely to respond to a shift of weight or a lift of reins.

To inspire a horse to go in such a situation, one must first understand why the horse stopped. Most likely, the horse stopped walking because the rider stopped riding…or maybe never started riding.  However, that answer requires explanation of what riding entails.

Riding a horse is more than being a passenger. Riding is active.  Riding is movement.  Riding is communication.  I don’t just ask my horse to go.  I also ask him to continue going.  I move in rhythm with his movement, then ask him to move with my movement.  If I stop moving, I expect him to also stop moving.

But it’s not just movement.  It’s communication through movement.  It’s relationship, balance, timing, and movement with meaning…where horse and rider have worked out a system of communication where both know the meaning of different cues and the expected response.  And it’s not one way communication.  The rider isn’t just telling the horse what to do, he’s also listening to the horse, feeling what the horse is thinking and noting where his attention is directed.  Ray Hunt described it as, “First you move with your horse.  Then your horse moves with you.  Then you both move together.”

“How do you make a horse go?” Such a simple direct question…deserving of a simple direct answer.  Yet master horsemen have written volumes trying to answer that question, and will tell you they fall short in the telling.

Why is the answer so complicated? Because the answer involves relationship and communication…because a useful answer must first bring the questioner into a paradigm of beginning to understand a little of that relationship…and because every horse and every rider are different.

Pondering these things I am reminded of the many questions we ask about godliness, expecting simple direct answers. Why would we assume simple direct answers could possibly be either complete or useful?  Human relationships are exponentially more complex than horse relationships.  Human communication is much more nuanced and prone to misunderstanding than horse-human communication.  The Bible tells us God’s ways are much higher than our ways and are beyond our understanding.

Yet, we stubbornly persist in asking simple direct questions from incomplete paradigms in expectation of simple direct answers.

Ask ten different theologians, “When is divorce permissible?” and you will likely receive ten different answers.

But that’s not the puzzling part.

The puzzling part is that nine of those ten theologians will likely respond with a simple direct answer…confident they have provided an answer that is both complete and useful…the sum total of what God has to say on the topic.

Human relations are extremely complex. Marital relations are even more complex than most.  Marital relations in a marriage having gone so badly wrong for one or both to be asking about divorce are likely full of complex contradictory emotions and many years of trying and failing to effectively communicate or effect change.

A person asking the question, “When is divorce permissible?” is clearly interested in pleasing God. Otherwise, there would be no need to even ask the question.  Discerning God’s plans and intentions for any person’s life in any given situation is difficult, requiring listening to the Holy Spirit and understanding His cues.  Yet, many pastors and theologians seem to believe they can speak godly wisdom into people’s lives through trite prescribed wooden answers assumed to fit every situation.

And a person asking such a question is likely in very real need of wise godly input. They don’t need a trite rhetorical response.  They need help and understanding.  They need useful input and prayerful suggestions.  An answer that is incomplete and unhelpful is worse than no response at all.  A simple “I don’t know” would be much better than a misleading answer to such a question.

I am a beginner horseman. Yet I know enough to realize there is no simple, direct, useful answer to the question, “How do you make a horse go?”

How could any experienced pastor believe a useful simplistic answer could be given to a question so fraught with complexities and potential pitfalls as “When is divorce permissible?”

Anyone who believes such a question can be usefully answered with a trite canned response is lacking in wisdom and discernment.

It’s just not that simple.

Miraculous Evidence

I recently read a Facebook comment lamenting the lack of objective proof of God’s existence. The guy seemed very sincere.  He mentioned his own personal crisis of faith and feeling disillusioned with his religious heritage.

I wrote a few words intended to encourage. I meant to come back to the post, but it was lost in my newsfeed.

It’s not the first time I’ve read or heard such thoughts…nor am I immune to such thinking myself from time to time. When faced with such questions, I mostly feel inadequate to meet the need.  I usually say much less than I would like to say, because I don’t want to come across as trite.  My head and my heart are full of potentially appropriate responses, but I struggle with how to express myself in a meaningful way…in a way that might be meaningful to the questioner.

The question reminded me of some of the ‘atheist challenges’ I’ve seen on the internet. One I read a few years ago challenged Christians to demonstrate just one objectively verifiable miracle.  I didn’t respond to the challenge…I did ponder the perspective of the author.

What, exactly, is a verifiable miracle? I assume ‘verifiable’ as used in the challenge means eyewitness testimony doesn’t count.  I assume it also means video evidence and photographic evidence don’t count.  Which drastically narrows the number of potential qualifying events.

On the one hand, I understand the reasoning. People have been known to falsify claims of miraculous events.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.  Videos and photographs can be modified to show things that didn’t happen…or can be misconstrued to seem to show things differently from what actually occurred.  Someone feeling disillusioned is likely to feel very untrusting of such things and ask for more objective evidence of the miraculous.

Here’s where it gets tricky though. When we think of miraculous events, we’re usually talking about something extraordinary and transitory in nature, that cannot be reasonably explained or understood through natural laws or scientific explanation.  By definition, any transitory or temporary event we could name is already in the past…it has already occurred…which means the telling of the event now relies to some extent on circumstantial evidence.

Let’s say, for example, we’re talking about a miraculous healing. We could probably present the healed person for investigation to verify they are no longer afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, the reported health issue no longer exists and now relies on circumstantial evidence.  One could produce health records, scans, x-rays, test results and eyewitness testimony that the person had, indeed, previously been afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, all of these could be dismissed as not objectively verifiable.  Records can be altered.  X-rays, scans, and test results can have names and dates edited.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.

This sort of evidence would likely be admissible in a court of law where the bar is “beyond a reasonable doubt” but would likely be insufficient for the person demanding absolute objectively verifiable scientific proof.

For the person requiring objectively verifiable evidence of a miracle before they will believe, no transitory miracle will suffice…because transitory miraculous events rely on circumstantial evidence for context and verification of facts prior to the altered state.

So, if legal proof is insufficient, what about scientific proof? Scientific investigation begins with hypotheses and theories that must be tested and verified.  The usual standard for scientific evidence is experimental verification that can be replicated by other scientists.

This is where we start getting into questions of the definition of a miracle.

Fire touched to dry gunpowder instantaneously initiates extremely rapid oxidation resulting in a highly explosive release of stored energy. I would call that miraculous.  It is also objectively verifiable and consistently repeatable.

However, I doubt the questioner would accept this as an objectively verifiable miracle. Why not?  It is certainly objectively verifiable…as well as extraordinary.  However, because it meets the scientific criteria for objectively verifiable evidence, he would likely not consider the explosive nature of gunpowder to be miraculous.  We can replicate the explosion at will and provide some level of explanation as to how it works.  Therefore, it is considered a natural phenomenon explained by science rather than a miracle.

sunrise through fog

Sunrise through Fog

Do you see the problem? We have no lack of evidence of the miraculous.  As I type these words I am looking out the window at a brilliant sunrise.  What a stunning miracle!

Yesterday, I visited my son and held my 4-month old grandson in my arms. I watched his sweet smile.  I heard his laugh and consoled his tears.  So much personality and life wrapped in such a tiny fragile package of humanity.  What a wondrous miracle!

Daily I am overwhelmed, awed and humbled by the miraculous. Most of these miraculous events are objectively verifiable by any scientific standard.  Yet, because they are objectively verifiable, they are dismissed as not miraculous enough.  The issue is neither a lack of scientific evidence nor a lack of miracles.  The issue is of a more philosophical nature…as soon as we are able to provide objectively verifiable proof we stop considering the event to be of a miraculous nature…because it is scientifically verifiable.

So, what if we could find a miraculous event that was scientifically verifiable but for which we have no scientific explanation…a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding? Would that meet the standard of an objectively verifiable miracle?

If so, I have very good news for you. That miracle exists and is as close as the nearest light switch.

Light is truly extraordinary in nature. Light consistently defies our understanding of the natural laws.  Though not at all uncommon in our natural world, light obstinately behaves as though it belongs to some other realm outside our natural world. Every time we develop a new theory to try to explain the behavior of light, we make a new discovery that confounds the latest theories.

In trying to explain what light is, we may describe it as rays, or as waves, or as particles. Scientific evidence shows it is all three…and none of the above.  In some ways light behaves as rays…yet it also contradicts ray theory.  In some ways light behaves as waves…yet it also contradicts wave theory.  In some ways light behaves as particles…yet it also contradicts particle theory.

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do. – Albert Einstein

In an effort to explain light’s stubborn refusal to conform to the normal scientific laws of relativity, Albert Einstein developed his generalized theory of relativity. The speed of light has been verifiably proven to be constant no matter the relative speeds of the viewer and the light source.  Einstein theorized that time and distance must, therefore, vary as a function of velocity.  Einstein’s theory nicely provides the required mathematics.  Yet, he clearly demonstrates that rather than learning how light fits into our understanding of the natural laws, we must instead adjust our understanding of the natural laws to conform to the behavior of light.

In more recent years, a whole new branch of physics called Quantum Physics has emerged to study another property of light. Even when light is carefully released one photon particle at a time, it still behaves in a wave interference manner, as though it were being continuously released as waves.  This behavior is objectively verifiable and repeatable, but virtually unexplainable.

Even more inexplicable, the behavior changes if an observer records the photon paths in real time…the observer influences the outcome of the experiment by simply observing.  Without an observer, the carefully controlled experiment results in wave-interference patterns.  With an observer recording the path of each photon, the exact same carefully controlled experiment results in random patterns as predicted by particle theory.

In an attempt to explain this behavior, quantum physicists have developed theories involving alternate parallel universes interconnected by probabilistic timelines.

space time continuum with duplicate earths

Alternate Reality – pic by Victor Habbick

Again, we find we cannot explain the behavior of light through our understanding of natural laws. We must, instead, adjust our understanding of the natural laws, including relying on hypothetical alternate realities we have no way of directly investigating or verifying.  We must rely, instead, on indirect observations based on the properties of light within our own observable universe.

I have heard a saying among quantum physicists, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t.” So, here we have a scientifically verifiable phenomenon which the leading specialized scientists admit they do not understand, cannot explain, and must resort to hypothetical propositions of unverifiable alternate universes in an attempt to explain.

Surely, light qualifies as a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding!

Light is, indeed, an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis.

Light is an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis! Click To Tweet

No wonder Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world”! (John 8:12)

Jesus was in this world but was not of this world. Jesus did not conform to the natural laws of this world…the natural laws conformed to Him.

Born of a virgin…turned water into wine…walked on water…calmed a storm with a verbal rebuke…healed the sick…raised the dead…died and was resurrected. All verified by multiple eyewitnesses…carefully recorded for posterity…

Unbelievable? Not sufficiently objectively verifiable?

Surely no more unbelievable than the hypothetical alternate universes relied on in attempting to explain the miraculously supernatural nature of light…which is scientifically established as consistently objectively verifiable…

Relative Comfort

I’m not an expert horse trainer. I am, at best, a novice horseman…maybe more of a wannabe horseman…which is okay, too.  My only horse experience has been working with our own horses.  So, take my observations with a grain of salt…I have a fairly narrow experience spectrum in regard to horse behavior.

However, the more I work with horses the more I find myself thinking of them as natural comfort magnets. Horses naturally move toward what feels comfortable and they naturally move away from what feels uncomfortable.  Their level of comfort or discomfort can be either physical or emotional…it often seems largely intuitive…which makes sense for prey animals.  It’s important to avoid anything intuitively perceived as uncomfortable…potentially dangerous.  It is equally important to gravitate toward comfort…food, water, shelter, safety.

I have begun to think of horsemanship as largely a matter of managing a horse’s comfort levels and comfort zones. Horsemen talk a lot about pressure and release.  Pressure is basically mild discomfort applied to solicit a response.  The release is basically comfort applied as positive reinforcement of desired behavior.  So, pressure and release are basically just using comfort and discomfort as training aids.

Horsemen also talk a lot about desensitizing…training a horse to be comfortable with something that has previously made him anxious. Basically this is a matter of incrementally expanding the horse’s comfort zone.  To desensitize my horse to an object, I expose him to it in small doses, letting him become comfortable with it first at a distance, then close up, then very close, then touching, then rubbing all over his body.  I incrementally step him from terrified to comfortable by gradually expanding his comfort zone to include the object of concern.

The tricky part comes in knowing when to apply comfort, when to apply discomfort, and to what degree.

For example, let’s say a horse has been taught to load in a trailer and normally has no issue loading. But one day I go to load that horse and he balks.  He backs away from the trailer door and doesn’t want anything to do with it.  Now, a lot of horse owners at this point will say, “I hate when a horse knows what to do and refuses.  He’s just being stubborn and defiant.”  Acting on that basis, they will then firm up and apply increasing pressure (discomfort) outside the trailer with the intent of getting the horse to load in the trailer.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes that is exactly what the horse needs in order to find the confidence to go ahead and load in the trailer.

But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes the horse will respond by more actively avoiding the trailer door.  And here is where it gets tricky…

If I respond to my horse’s reluctance to load by firming up and assuming he is being defiant, my natural response to increased resistance will likely be to become even firmer and more aggressive. That can quickly escalate into a contest of wills which I cannot win…the horse is too much bigger and stronger than I.  More significantly, by battling out a contest of wills right at the trailer door, I am turning the trailer door into a high pressure zone…a place of discomfort and suspicion…which is the opposite of what I want.  A horse who loads easily is a horse who feels comfortable and confident both around the trailer door and inside the trailer.

Now, here’s where the comfort management comes in.

For whatever reason, the horse was initially uncomfortable with the trailer door on this particular day. My escalation of pressure didn’t work and resulted, instead in making him even more suspicious of the trailer door.  I’m increasing pressure outside the trailer with the intent of getting him to move through the trailer door to escape the discomfort I’m creating.  However, the situation is rapidly devolving to trap the horse between two escalating sources of discomfort.  Most likely, the horse will attempt to escape both sources of discomfort by moving completely out of the area.  He will probably try to flee the area, even if he has to buck or rear to do it.

At that point it’s probably best to walk away and try a different approach…maybe one that focuses more on comfort and less on discomfort. Successful trailer loading begins with the horse feeling very comfortable in and around the trailer.

Where the comfort management gets really fun is in realizing the horse is also sensitive to different levels of comfort and will tend to gravitate toward the more comfortable. If I’m going down the road and want my horse to move toward the left side, one way to cue that is to press with my right leg so my horse will move left, away from the pressure.  I haven’t really caused any discomfort.  I’ve just set up a situation of relative discomfort.  I’ve made the right side feel a little less comfortable than the left side so the horse will move left, away from the less comfortable.

Once I started experimenting with relative comfort I wanted to see how light a cue my horse would respond to. Before long, I could get him to step left with just a light brush of my right leg.  Then I decided to take it one step further.  What if, instead of creating relative discomfort I created relative comfort?  Rather than pressing with my right leg, I lifted my left stirrup away and my horse stepped left.  The lifted stirrup created a lower pressure zone of increased relative comfort which the horse gravitated toward.

Rather than using mild leg pressure to push the horse the desired direction, the lifted stirrup sets up a mild comfort differential to invite the horse to step the desired direction. It’s the difference between leading versus pushing…the difference between inviting versus compelling.  The really cool thing about this approach is I never did anything to cause discomfort under saddle.  Instead, I invited him from a place of comfort to a place of greater comfort.

Comfort under saddle is important because my long-term goal for my horse is for me to be his greatest source of comfort.  I want the place beneath my saddle and between my legs to be his greatest comfort zone.  When we’re riding and encounter something he views as scary, I want him looking to me for direction, confidence and comfort rather than running scared.

Disclaimer: Lest I give the impression I’m a better horseman than I am, let me clarify that not every ride is as smooth and light as I have described here.  Some rides are a bit rougher.  Even most good rides require a couple of times using enough pressure to “give the horse a reason to respond to the light cue” as Carson James likes to say.  However, some rides really are that light and smooth…and with practice those light rides are becoming more frequent.

Reflecting on the response of these horses to varying levels of comfort, I realize I’m not so different from a horse. I too am drawn toward comfort and repelled by discomfort.  I also tend to gravitate toward the more comfortable.  In tense or fearful situations, I too look for a source of comfort.

No wonder Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter!

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

Like my horse, in stressful situations I tend to flee to a place of comfort. There may be any number of comfort sources I may turn to…and there may be nothing wrong with many of them.  However, sin can be addicting for the very reason that it provides temporary comfort…and any comfort source (other than Christ) raised to a high level of priority can become sinful.

Much like my goals for my horse, God’s goal for me is for the Holy Spirit to be my greatest source of comfort. My greatest comfort zone should be abiding in Him.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When I’m scared or stressed, I need to learn to run to Father for comfort and direction.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

What a wonderful Savior, who leads us from comfort to comfort with light gentle cues!

Your thoughts?