Trusting thru Concerns

Riding the back fence line at Lazy Colt Ranch

The first Sunday afternoon in November, I loaded Knockout in our 3-horse trailer and carried him to a friend’s ranch.

Since we mostly ride on our own farm or down the gravel roads near our farm, I wanted to carry Knockout somewhere else to expose him to riding in different locations.

I was pleased to see Knockout was calm and relaxed as we unloaded from the trailer and saddled up. I swung into the saddle and set out to follow my friend’s instructions to explore and have fun.

We left the yard at an easy trot, headed toward the back pasture. Passing thru the open gate, Knockout acted a little concerned, but I just asked him to keep going and he did.  He eyed the sorting pens warily as we rode past.  He pushed thru my seat cue to step left and avoid a scary looking mud puddle…so I turned him to ride back thru it.  The third time around, we calmly rode straight thru the puddle.

We passed a big black bull on the left…no different than the bulls in our own pasture. Bulls in other people’s pastures look scarier, apparently.  Knockout tensed a little and kept a wary eye on the bull until we were past.

The first fifteen minutes of the ride went like that. Water troughs, gates, salt blocks, even trees were cause for extra wariness.

Knockout never panicked…never spooked…never balked or bolted. He was just concerned about everything.  Everyday objects no different than what we see every ride somehow looked more ominous when seen in unfamiliar surroundings.  Yet he still trusted me through it all and continued to respect my cues.

When we reached the back fence line, we stopped to do a few exercises intended to help Knockout focus on me. We did some backing on light cues, practiced turns both directions on fore and hind, side-passed and counter-arced.  Then we rode into a strip of woods where we wound a path between trees, circled trees both directions, and backed circles around trees.

By the time we rode out of the woods, Knockout was relaxed and focused. The wariness had all disappeared as he focused on listening to me.

Tuesday, I had a PET-Scan. There was no specific concern other than it had been two years since my last scan.  Although all checkups were going well, my doctors felt it would be prudent to do another scan just to be sure.

I was surprised to realize I was concerned. For over two years I’ve been going to doctors’ appointments every couple of months for checkups and scopes.  I’ve never been concerned by any of it.  It’s just another checkup with expectations of a good report.

For some reason, the upcoming PET-Scan was more concerning to me. It was a break from the usual routine.  It felt less familiar and a little more intimidating.  I didn’t expect any issues…but then that is what the scan is for…to see if there are any issues.

Much like Knockout riding in an unfamiliar pasture, ordinary things are just a little more concerning in unfamiliar circumstances.

Wednesday, a nurse from the ENT doctor’s office called to tell me the PET-Scan showed a small uptake at the base of my tongue and they were going to schedule a CT-Scan to investigate further.

I’ve had CT-Scan’s before…but not recently. And what about that small uptake?  I knew it was quite likely a false positive…but it was enough of a concern for my ENT to order a CT-Scan.

My level of concern was elevated. Much like Knockout, I was still trusting the one who directs my paths.  I was not panicked.  But I was concerned and a little wary.

Friday, I kept my appointment with my Oncologist, who reviewed the PET-Scan, scoped my throat, and performed a thorough examination of my mouth, throat and neck. All looks good!  He believes the small uptake was reflective of a minor throat infection.

I’m still keeping the CT-Scan appointment just to verify. But you know what?  I no longer feel the elevated concern.  I feel relaxed and confident…focused on listening to The One who directs my paths.

Jesus is such a good horseman to me!  He is my friend who will never leave me.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Hot Wire Authority

Knockout and I finished checking cows, then swung around at a lope toward the corner of the pasture to check fences. Slowing to a brisk walk, we entered the woods trail paralleling the back fence line.  At the corner, we turned north, continuing our ride through the woods until we crossed the creek to ride through the gate to the front pasture.

Coming out of the woods, we recrossed the creek, then picked up into a trot along the west fence line. Seeing a small tree branch on the hotwire, I cued a stop and dismounted.  Dropping the reins to ground-tie Knockout, I walked over and tossed the limb into the woods on the other side of the fence.  Knockout stood quietly as I gathered the reins and remounted.  Uncharacteristically, he started moving before I was settled in the saddle.  So, I cued a stop, backed him, and asked him to stand quietly a moment before continuing our ride.

Two fence posts further along, the wire was off an insulator. Again, we stopped and Knockout stood ground-tied as I inspected the fence.  Since the wire was not sparking against the steel post, I knew it was safe to touch the wire…and something was wrong with the charging unit.  I replaced the wire in the insulator and reminded myself to check the battery and connectors.  This time, Knockout stood quietly as I remounted, and he awaited my signal before moving on.

Next we dropped down a steep bank for our third creek crossing. This crossing is my favorite and Knockout’s least favorite.  The creek bottom lies about ten feet below pasture level with steep banks on each side.  A few weeks ago, Knockout avoided this crossing, but now he takes the steep decline in stride.

Just on the other side of the creek, we stopped again to replace the wire on another insulator and to check the charging unit. The battery was dead, which explains the fence condition.  I made a mental note to make sure we replace the battery before dark, then remounted to continue the inspection.

Riding through a pine thicket, I noticed the top wire was sagging low between several posts. So we continued to the end of the electric fence where I again dismounted and left Knockout standing ground-tied.  Walking over to the corner post, I started untwisting the end of the wire as Knockout calmly nibbled a clump of grass pushing through the thick carpet of pine needles.

Once the wire end was free, I started pulling it tight. As there was quite a bit of slack going down several fence posts, it took a bit of tugging to get it pulled tight.  About the time I got the slack out I caught movement from the corner of my eye.  Turning my head, I saw Knockout eyeing the fence as he sidestepped away.  Glancing back, I realized this section of fence had several long strands of bright flagging that were now bouncing and waving wildly around as I tugged and pulled on the wire.

“Whoa, Knockout!” I called as I took a quick turn of the wire to hold it in place.

Knockout turned tail and continued his retreat in his best quarter-horse imitation of a saddle-bred’s quick gaited walk. To his credit, he did not panic and run.  However, he was clearly uncomfortable with that wire bouncing around flapping all the mysterious flagging…and was distancing himself from the source of his discomfort.

I had to move fast to catch up! Fortunately, Knockout stopped and let me scoop up the reins.  I backed him vigorously a few steps just to remind him he wasn’t supposed to walk off while ground-tied.  Then we returned to finish the fence repair.

I stuffed the end of the rein in my hip pocket, leaving both hands free to work while still keeping the rein close in case Knockout walked off again.  This required Knockout to approach closer to the fence than before…which he was pretty hesitant to do.  I just hung in there asking until he stepped close enough for me to work.

I finished securing the fence wire without further incident.

With the fence repair completed I turned back to Knockout. “Now, let’s talk about this wire and flagging that got you so distressed.”  Holding his rein in my left hand, I gave the wire a vigorous shake with my right hand.  Knockout backed to the end of the rein and braced as I continued shaking the wire.  After a couple of seconds, Knockout softened and took one step forward.  I responded by immediately stilling the movement of the wire.  I praised Knockout, then did it again.  We did that a few more times until Knockout would stand calmly before stepping toward the wire while I vigorously shook it.

Then we had a little talk.

“Knockout, you have every reason to fear that wire when I’m not with you. Yes, you know from experience that touching an electric fence results in a very unpleasant sensation.  I’m glad you know that.  I’m glad you know to stay away from the fence when I’m not with you.”

“When I’m with you, though, it’s a completely different deal. That fence won’t hurt you when you’re with me.  I have authority over that wire.  It only carries a charge when I tell it to carry a charge.  When you’re with me, you can trust me to know whether or not the fence is charged.”

I remounted and we rode home.

As we rode, my words to Knockout echoed through my mind…except different…in a still small voice…

“Joe, you don’t need to worry about everything going on in the world. Yes, American politics is going crazy.  Yes, the country is increasingly divided.  Yes, the number of mass shootings is escalating.  Yes, terrorist acts are increasing.  These are all reasonable things to be concerned about.”

“When you’re with Me, though, it’s a completely different deal. I have authority over all these things.  I have authority over sin and death.  Nothing can harm you without My permission.  When you’re with Me, you can trust Me to care for you.”

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “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)

Yes, Jesus!  You have authority. Thank you, Lord!

Divine Will

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)

What’s the deal with this passage? Although God spoke as though Israel was opposing His will in asking for a king, He told Samuel to listen to their voice and do what they asked.  Samuel then warned the people of how a king would mistreat them, yet the elders still insisted they wanted a king.

This is an interesting passage. The elders of Israel seemed to be going against the Lord’s will in asking for a king.  Yet, they were also seeking God’s will in the selection of a king.  They didn’t just go out and anoint their own king.  They asked the prophet, Samuel, to appoint a king over them.

Samuel complied, and based on God’s guidance anointed Saul to be king over Israel. Later, Saul disobeyed God, and God subsequently rejected Saul as king and had Samuel anoint David as king in place of Saul.

What’s going on here? If the elders of Israel are rejecting God in asking for a king, then why are they asking for God’s selection for a king?

Why did God first indicate He didn’t want Israel to have a king…then anoint Saul as king…then reject Saul as king…then anoint David as king? Does God really have that much trouble making up His own mind?  Does God not know His own will?  If it wasn’t God’s will for Israel to have a king, why did God tell Samuel to appoint a king?

In an attempt to make sense out of these apparent contradictions, some people explain this passage in terms of God’s divine will versus God’s permissive will.  The general idea is that God has a perfect divine will He wants us to follow, but also has an imperfect permissive will he allows us to follow.  So, they would say it was God’s divine will for Israel to not have a king, but in His permissive will God allowed them to have a king…and to suffer the consequences of their bad choice.

The whole divine will versus permissive will explanation doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, though.

This perspective sets us up to try to view God as having multiple wills. Rather than helping us better understand the passage, I think it just makes it more confusing.  How could God have a divided will when everything about Him is perfect?  God knows all things and can clearly foresee future events before they happen.  He is not constrained by time and space as we are.  So how could He have a divided will, or how could He change is mind?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Reading this passage reminds me of the evening I decided to train Archie, our young stud colt, to tail lead.

What I mean by the term tail lead, is simply that if I lightly pull a horse’s tail to the right, I would like him to step his hindquarters right. If I lightly pull his tail to the left, I would like him to step his hindquarters left.  This is not usually considered a super important horse training lesson.  A vast majority of horses go their entire lives without ever learning to tail lead and it doesn’t cause their owners any concern.

I’ve come to like teaching a horse to tail lead, mostly because it is useful when handling, grooming, maneuvering tight spots, etc. Most horses know how to step away from pressure applied by the handler.  Sometimes, it is more convenient to ask the horse to step his hindquarters toward me (rather than away from me) and tail leading allows me to effectively communicate that intent.

Also, tail lead training is a good lesson in building communication between horse and handler. It’s just one of many…but the many small things add up over time to result in big changes for the horse.

On this particular day, I had Archie at our farrier’s barn along with several other horses. While our farrier was trimming and shoeing other horses, I decided to use my time to train Archie.  The timing was intentional on my part.  By teaching Archie something new while in an unfamiliar location, I was also helping him learn to focus on me and respond to my cues no matter where we are.

Holding Archie’s lead line in my left hand, I grasped his tail with my right hand. Then I firmly tugged on his tail.  As expected, Archie promptly stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  I simply held the same tail pressure and moved with him.

Now, at this point, anyone watching me (like my farrier maybe?) might have questioned what I was doing and why. They might have wondered about my intent…my will for Archie’s behavior.  I set out to teach Archie to step toward me when I lightly pulled his tail.  Instead he was strongly resisting the pressure and continually stepping away from me…while I simply went with him.

After a few minutes of moving around in circles, Archie paused…and I promptly dropped his tail. I petted and praised him like he’d just won the Kentucky Derby!  All he had actually done was stop moving away from me.  Anyone watching me at this point might have wondered if that was my intent…for Archie to simply stand still when I tugged on his tail.  I certainly praised him plenty for simply standing still for a moment!

Still holding the lead line in my left hand, I once again grasped Archie’s tail in my right hand and tugged. Again, he stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  Again, I simply went with him and waited until he paused moving.  Again I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

We did this several more times with the same results. Except, with each repetition it took him less time to stop moving.  Each time he acted a little less bothered and was a little quicker to stop moving away from me.

Then, one time Archie only started to move away, before deciding to stand still. I simply held the same tail pressure.  Again, he shifted his weight away and moved one hind hoof away…then he moved the hoof back to his left and I immediately dropped his tail and praised him.

Next time, Archie braced right without actually moving right. After a few seconds, he softened and tentatively stepped left.  I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

After a few more minutes practice, Archie got to where he would move left toward me fairly quickly when I tugged his tail.

Then I switched things up. I moved to Archie’s right side and repeated everything again, from the right side.  We went through the same process from the right side, and after a few minutes Archie would step right to a right tail-pull.

Then I move back to Archie’s left side…and Archie was totally confused!

At that point he was totally lost on which way I wanted him to step when.  He understood I wanted a step and he was willing to do what I asked, but he was very confused on the proper response to a cue from left or right.

So, we kept working on first one side and then the other until Archie was able to tell the difference between a left cue and a right cue…and the proper response to each.

At that point, Archie understood what I wanted and responded fairly well. However, his first response was to brace against the tug, before deciding to soften and go with me.

So, we continued to work on it with lighter and lighter cues.

By the time we quit for the night, I could stand to Archie’s left and lift his tail. Before I even applied any pressure, Archie would softly shift his weight left.  Then when I actually started drawing his tail toward me, Archie would smoothly step over before any real pressure was even applied.  And he responded just as softly and promptly working from his right side.

It was a really fun training session in which we accomplished all I had hoped for!

If anyone had been watching the entire training session, by the end it would have been pretty obvious Archie and I had accomplished what I had planned from the start.

Early on, that would not have been as obvious. The first time I tugged Archie’s tail, he stepped away from me and I simply went with him.  At that stage, it didn’t look like I was teaching Archie to tail lead.  It looked more like I was just letting Archie drag me around by his tail.

Then when Archie paused his movement for just a moment, I dropped his tail and profusely praised him, as though he had done exactly what I wanted…even though it wasn’t anything close to what I really wanted. If we paused the scene at that one spot, it would have looked as though I didn’t know my own mind and was doing a poor job of communicating my intent to Archie.

In actuality, I had a specific intent for that training session, and the entire session went according to my plan. Archie exercised his free will in accordance with his instincts throughout the whole training session.  Yet I had anticipated his choices in advance and had already planned for them.  Even as I allowed Archie to do what felt comfortable to him, I was working out my plan to bring about my will and purpose for Archie.

Furthermore, at no time in that training session was Archie rebellious toward me. Archie simply followed his natural instincts to respond to my cues in the way that felt most comfortable to him.  Archie was not intentionally subverting my will.  In fact, he seemed perfectly willing to do what I asked once he came to understand my intent and was allowed time to become confident doing what I asked.

The training session was never about punishing Archie or forcing him to conform to my will, nor was I ever angry with Archie. From start to finish, I worked with Archie in what was comfortable to him, even as I taught him to understand my desired response and helped him become comfortable doing what I asked.  I broke the task into small training segments that Archie could understand and helped him learn one stage at a time until he had accomplished all I wanted for that training session.

I am a novice amateur horseman. Yet I was able to plan well enough to incrementally work out my will and purpose through my horse’s imperfect choices, to bring about my will in his life.

God is creator of heaven and earth…the great I Am…the one who is, who was, and who is to come. How much more can God incrementally work out His will and purpose through our imperfect choices, to bring about His perfect will in our lives!

Throughout the Old Testament narrative, a primary objective of God’s will was to bring a Savior into the world. The first messianic prophecy was given in the third chapter of Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, when God foretold the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head.  From there, God continued to unfold further revelations of His plans for the coming Messiah (Christ).  Among those revelations are several prophecies that Messiah would be a descendant of King David, that He would inherit David’s throne, and that He would rule over all the earth.

This was God’s divine plan from the beginning.

God always wanted Israel to have a king. That King is Jesus Christ, direct descendant of King David and heir to David’s throne.  What we see in 1 Samuel is the incremental unfolding of God’s divine plan being worked out through the imperfect choices of His people.

Samuel was offended the people wanted a king to take care of them. God simply went with them as they sought comfort in a king, much as I went with Archie as he initially moved away from me when I tugged his tail.

God personally selected a king based on what the elders were looking for. They wanted a strong domineering king who would build up an army by force and defeat Israel’s enemies in battle.  God responded by giving them Saul, who was all they asked for.

Several years later, the people came to realize they wanted more from a king than what Saul offered. After Saul died in battle, they wanted a godly king…a king who pursued God’s heart…a king who acted justly and loved mercy.  They were ready to covenant with David to be king.  And, eventually, Jesus became heir to David’s throne.

God was not being double minded nor was He changing his mind. God simply worked with the elders of Israel from their perspective at that time, to bring about His perfect will in their lives, through their imperfect choices.

This is what God does. This is what God still does, today, in the lives of His children.

God works thru the imperfect choices of His children to bring about His perfect will. Click To Tweet

Perhaps someone reading this post is in an abusive relationship. Perhaps you have been living in quiet despair, believing you must have taken a wrong turn and made choices outside God’s will for your life.  Perhaps you have stopped believing God’s best plan for your life is even a possibility and have simply been hoping for some measure of God’s mercy in trying to live out a second-best life in God’s “permissive” will.  Perhaps you have even started to believe maybe you deserve the abuse as punishment for your wrong choices.

If that’s the case…if you are in a situation similar to what I have described…then let me assure you God’s perfect plan for your life is not off track. Nothing you have done has taken God by surprise.  He has known His plan for you from the beginning and is continuing to bring about His purpose for you through your imperfect choices.  Just as I worked with Archie from where he was, God is working with you from where you are.  If you belong to Christ, you can trust Him to bring about His perfect plan for your life.  And God’s perfect plan includes your walking in liberty in Christ, free of any abusive covenants of bondage.

God established Saul as king over Israel based on their imperfect choices. Yet, when the time was right, God removed Saul from the throne and established David as king…with the ultimate goal of establishing Jesus as king.

You can trust God to do the same for you. God is faithful!

Divine Direction

Divine direction is a difficult concept to discuss or explain. We talk about relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We sing worship songs asking Jesus, “Help me, I pray.  Show me the way, one day at a time.”  Yet, we struggle to really explain what that means lived out in real life.

I can say, based on my own personal experience, there have been times in my life when I felt God very personally guiding me one step at a time. Usually, this was during particularly stressful times in my life and the step-by-step guidance felt a little scary…because I really wanted to see the whole path mapped out in advance.  Yet God asked me to simply trust Him and do what He asked at each step…and God proved Himself faithful.

One such example was when my employer of over 20 years decided to close the business. That was a pretty stressful time.  I felt I needed to take action, but was not at all sure what direction I should take.  During that time, God frequently comforted and assured me He was in control, and asked me to simply wait and trust Him.  In the end, I was employed by another company in the same industry who decided to open a facility in the same town.

Another example was a couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Throughout that whole ordeal I very much faced life one day at a time, relying on God every step of the way.  Sometimes, it was simply one meal at a time, “Please, God, help me to swallow this meal down and keep it down.  Lord, help me get the nourishment my body needs, today.”  Once again, God proved Himself faithful.

Most of the time, living under divine direction is a lot more fluid. I don’t usually ask God for direction on what to eat each meal.  I don’t wait for the Holy Spirit to tell me when I should bathe or wash my hands.  God generally expects me to use the good sense and experience He gave me to make these decisions myself.

Nor do I rely on God to directly intervene and tell me to love others. He already told us that numerous times in the Bible.  Jesus modeled what love looks like.  However, the Holy Spirit does sometimes prompt me to lovingly take a specific action toward a specific person.

So, it is not all one or all the other…it is a blending and mixing of cognitive decision making and relying on divine direction.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way. (Psalm 37:23)

The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)

I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

Riding my horse, Knockout, last weekend, I realized the timing of direction I give Knockout is similar to the timing of direction God gives me.

Riding off-trail through the woods, picking our way through trees and brush, we travel at a walk with me literally directing the placement of every foot. In those situations, I have to plan a viable path in advance.  We must avoid low hanging branches that could knock me out of the saddle.  We must avoid rubbing against trees that could injure me.  We must avoid deadfalls with entangling branches and vines that could snag and trip Knockout.  We must avoid holes that could injure a horse’s leg.  So, I step-by-step direct Knockout’s path and Knockout responds accordingly, as we weave our way through the obstacles.  Knockout does not know what path I have planned, so he must await my direction on every step.

Riding off-trail through woods reminds me of how God guides me step-by-step through difficult life situations, much as I guide Knockout.  Since I cannot see the path, I must rely on God’s guidance for each step…and He is faithful.

Riding the gravel roads is a completely different situation. With no tripping hazards and a clear path, I don’t pay much attention to exact placement of Knockout’s feet, and we often travel at a trot or canter.  I have a destination in mind and a preferred gait and speed I want to travel, and I expect Knockout to respond accordingly.  With the clearly marked road, Knockout does not require frequent input from me.  He also does not have much need to make decisions.  Knockout’s task is to simply follow the road at the speed I set until I ask for a change.

Traveling gravel roads reminds me of God’s direction during my normal daily living, where I pretty much know what He expects and don’t need to constantly ask.  Like Knockout, my job is to keep following the path He has laid out for me until He asks for a change.

Trotting or loping across our pasture presents yet another set of challenges. Our pastures are not perfectly smooth or groomed.  We have lots of little patches of brush a horse can trip on.  We also have lots of dips and mounds that can act as tripping hazards.  While trotting or loping in the pasture I tend to focus on the end goal…the point at the other end of the pasture we are traveling toward…and I hold Knockout pretty much to that path.  However, I allow a lot of flexibility in the exact route.  Knockout must watch for potential tripping hazards and navigate around them.  So long as he returns pretty quickly to the intended direction of travel, I expect him to make minor navigation decisions on his own.  And when Knockout stumbles, I use the reins to lift him up and urge him on.

Trotting or loping across the pasture reminds me of how God guides me through temptations and difficulties during normal daily living.  He sets the long goal with clear direction, but gives me the responsibility of watching for issues and adjusting course accordingly…as He continually brings me back to focus on the goal of loving others as I am conformed to His image.  And when I stumble, God lifts me up and urges me on.

Similarly, when crossing creeks with steep muddy banks, I allow Knockout some discretion on moving a couple of feet to the left or right, as he sees fit. After all, he is the one who has to find secure footing for our crossing.

Crossing creeks with steep banks reminds me of the many times I have sought God’s direction on a specific decision and God pretty much told me it was my choice…that neither path was inherently right or wrong…and He would be with me whatever I chose.

When we track a cow, Knockout’s discretionary decision-making ratchets up a notch, as I actively ask him to make some of his own decisions. I want him to learn to track and read a cow with minimal input from me.  So, once we’re trailing the cow, I stop giving much guidance as long as Knockout generally continues to follow.  I mostly try to stay out of his way and let him do his thing, unless it looks like he needs a little help.  Knockout must pay close attention to the cow while also being always prepared to respond to a cue from me.

Tracking cows reminds me of the seasons of learning when God has pushed me outside my comfort zone and prompted me to pursue a passion…as He provides additional guidance as needed.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit guides me one step at a time. Other times, His guidance is more general with a lot of decisions being left to my discretion.  Always, He is faithful!

He is faithful to walk with me and guide me.  He is faithful to always guide me back to the Paths of Righteousness.  He is faithful to continually complete the good work He has begun of conforming me to His image.

He is my faithful horseman!

Purpose

The last few months, Knockout (my 7-yo AQHA quarter horse gelding) and I have been spending a lot of time checking cows and checking fence. Most weekday evenings we do a quick check before dark.  Most weekend mornings we do a more relaxed and thorough check, spending a little more time getting acquainted with each cow.

It would sound a lot cooler if I said we’ve been working cows…but that might be a bit misleading.  We’re not out there roping, branding, or doctoring cows.  In general, we’re not even moving cows…though we have started playing with gathering and pushing a little bit just to get a feel for it.  We even pushed a few calves back into the pasture after they got out, the other day.  Most of the time, we just ride around making sure all the cows look healthy and sound, read ear tag numbers to check off my list, and count the calves to make sure everyone is accounted for.  Then we ride the fence to make sure it’s in good repair…and ride by the electric fence chargers to make sure they’re clicking and flashing like they’re supposed to be.

It’s pretty simple stuff. I suspect this is the sort of stuff that once made up the lifestyle of a historical cow-boy.  Before the dangerous Texas cattle drives through Indian Territory added the sense of adventure, and before the dime novels romanticized the western cowboy lifestyle, a cow-boy was simply a boy who took care of the cows…much like a shepherd takes care of sheep.

That’s what Knockout and I have been doing the last few months. We check cows.

I’ve been amazed at how checking cows has changed the dynamic of our rides. We used to ride the same pastures and woods trails we’re riding now.  Previously, though, the focus was on us and our teamwork.

Sure, I enjoyed the beauty of nature as we went, and we would sometimes stop to watch the calves play. However, my main focus was on Knockout.  Was Knockout responding promptly to my cues?  Was Knockout keeping his attention on me?  Was Knockout responsive to my body language?  Was Knockout tense or was he relaxed as we rode?  Was Knockout compliant or resistant?  Was Knockout traveling in straight lines at constant rates of speed?

Then there was also a lot of focus on myself. Were my hands light on the reins?  Did I have plenty of slack in the reins?  Was I practicing good rein management?  Were my cues light?  Was my timing good?  Was I carrying an independent seat?  Was I dropping all pressure when headed in the desired direction?  Was my body positioned facing the direction I wanted to go and eyes focused on a distant goal point?

Similarly, Knockout’s main focus was on me and my cues…except when he was focused on where he wanted to go…like back home. Or when he was focused on what he could startle at…like my helmet brushing a branch as we rode under it.  When these things happened, my focus became making sure Knockout’s focus returned to me.

Now, none of these are bad things. For the stage we were at, they were necessary areas of focus.  Furthermore, they have never stopped being necessary.  I still pay attention to these things…but now they’re more in the background…not subconscious but not at the forefront of my focus, either.

Now my primary focus is on the cows and fencing. Where is the herd?  Is the herd together or scattered?  What is my best approach to make sure I check each cow?  What is my best route thru the herd as I check ear tags?  Which ear tags can I check off from a distance just by knowing the markings of individual cows?  What is my best approach to each cow, to get a good look at her ear tag without spooking her into turning away from me or walking off?  Are any cows hidden behind that wall of brush near the back fence line?  Are any cows lying down in the shade of the woods?  Why am I coming up one cow short in my count?  Where is the missing cow hidden…or did I just overlook her as I rode through the herd?

Likewise while checking fence, I’m focused on seeing a thin wire. Is it tight or sagging?  If it is sagging, where’s the break?  Is the wire on each post insulator?  If not, I need to dismount to put the wire back in place at each fence post.  Is anything shorting the fence out?  Does that fallen branch need to be moved?  Why isn’t the electric fence charger ticking?  Is the battery connection loose?  When did we last charge the battery?

Now, behind all that, I’m still riding. I’m still doing rein management and hopefully using appropriate pressure with good timing.  But that is no longer in the forefront of my thoughts.

And you know what? As my focus has changed, Knockout’s focus has begun to change, too.  He’s no longer looking for a chance to go back home.  We’re riding through rougher terrain with more high brush and low branches than we ever did before, yet Knockout rarely startles at anything.  Like myself, Knockout is focused on the cows.  As I leave one cow and turn to head toward another, Knockout is already looking to see which cow we’re approaching next.  As we approach a cow, Knockout is eagerly waiting to see if we’re going to direct the cow somewhere or just read an ear tag and ride on.

Knockout loves directing cows! We’re not very good at it, yet, but he sure loves doing it.

As we work together, Knockout and I are both learning to plan approach angles and speed. We’re learning to adjust our speed to intercept a moving cow without spooking her.  When pushing a cow, we’re learning to be aware of speed, flight zone, and balance point.  We’re learning to trust each other to do our jobs even as we learn together and fill in for each other.

While checking fence, Knockout has begun to keep one eye on the wire just as I am. He knows to stay near the fence line without getting too close.  He is beginning to learn when something is wrong with the fence wire we are going to stop for me to dismount and correct the issue.  And he has learned to stand patiently ground-tied while I fix the fence.

I’ve also noticed I have less tendency to micromanage than before. When we’re tracking a cow, I’m likely to just let Knockout go, confident he knows what to do.  When we’re checking fence, if I can see Knockout is paying attention to tracking beside the fence, I’m likely to just let him go, confident he knows to follow the wire.  When fixing fence, I just drop the reins on the ground and go about my business, trusting Knockout to stay put until I come back.  When crossing a creek, I’m likely to let him move over a couple of steps if he chooses…after all he’s the one who has to maintain his footing as we cross.

Tending cows is becoming a common goal we both work on together. Rather than focusing on our teamwork, we are beginning to work together as a team for a common purpose.  Rather than practicing transitions, we frequently transition speed and gait as part of the job.  Rather than practicing turns and laterals, we turn and move as needed to get the job done.

It’s sort of like the difference between a football practice and a football game. Yes, the practice is important and necessary, but the game is where the team really comes together toward a common goal.

Working together on necessary tasks has given our rides a sense of purpose. Knockout and I have both embraced that purpose, resulting in a closer sense of partnership.  We don’t work against each other as much, because we’re busy working together toward a common goal.

Isn’t that what God does with us?

When Jesus discipled the twelve apostles, they didn’t just sit around soaking up Jesus’ teaching and enjoying the fellowship. Jesus sent them out to minister to others.  He gave them very explicit instructions on how they were to conduct themselves, and told them:

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

Jesus didn’t just minister to the disciples. Rather He asked them to join Him in ministry.  He entrusted them with an important job.  Jesus gave clear and explicit directions without micromanaging.  He called the apostles to a mission with purpose.

Jesus calls us to the same purposeful mission:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Notice we are not alone in this mission. Jesus is with us.  We’re working together toward a common goal.

At His last supper with the disciples, Jesus gave them further instructions:

“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)

This is our mission, our purposeful common goal. Go make disciples and love one another.

This is how Christ draws us into closer relationship with Him…by inviting us to join Him in working toward these common goals.

Are you working with Christ to accomplish these necessary tasks?

In Him

Horses are social creatures. They like being around other horses.  In many ways, they are very dependent on other horses.

In a herd, horses depend on each other to watch and warn of danger. So, when one horse takes off running, the rest of the herd runs too.

It goes beyond flight, though. Horses tend to be very attuned to the emotional state of other horses.  If one horse acts nervous, other horses are likely to pick up on it and start acting anxious themselves.  Likewise, if a horse is unsure about crossing a stream, they will often do better following another horse across.

In working with Knockout (my 7-yo gelding) the last couple of years, we have done a lot of solo riding with no other horses around…and we had to work through minor issues with him not wanting to leave the rest of the herd.

We’ve ridden with other horses…and we have had to work through minor issues with Knockout taking his cues from the other horses rather than from me.

One evening last week, I decided it was time to trim the oak branches hanging low over our driveway.

Rather than climbing up and down a step ladder, moving it a foot at a time, I decided to just do it from horseback…using Knockout as a living scaffold of sorts.

We’ve done basically the same thing trimming our woods trails, so I didn’t expect any issues.

The first tree went pretty much as expected. Knockout let me know it wasn’t his favorite thing to do. But when I insisted he willingly complied.

Knockout stood patiently as I reached, clipped, and tugged at branches. He didn’t complain as twigs fell on his head and hung in his mane and bridle. Even when I shook the reins to free a large twig he stood patiently, apparently understanding that’s what was needed.

Then we moved to the next tree which happens to be adjacent to our horse pasture.

No sooner did we start on the second tree than five of Knockout’s pasture mates ran up to investigate from the other side of the electric fence.

Knockout didn’t even look at the other horses, so I just kept trimming as they milled about, reaching for leaves to eat.

At one point I stood in the stirrups grasping a branch in my left hand to pull it into reach of the clippers in my right hand. Yes…that’s a very vulnerable position…apparently I trust my horse…

At that moment, one of the horses on the other side of the electric fence must have touched the hot-wire. They all spun and dashed off in a panicked flurry of hooves. I tightened my grip on the limb in anticipation of being left hanging.

But Knockout never moved…never flinched…never twitched a muscle or even acted interested.

So I just kept right on clipping branches.

I am so proud of this young horse!

It is sometimes hard to believe this is the same horse as the green-broke, spooky, flighty, prone-to-bolt young colt I started working with a couple of years ago.

In that moment when I was most vulnerable and relying completely on Knockout, Knockout chose to rely on me. He ignored the other horses.  He completely disregarded their drama and panic.  In that moment, Knockout chose to simply rest in my assuring presence.

Isn’t that what Christ calls us to do?

When all around, people are swept up in drama and fear…when angry voices cry out for attention…when arrogant voices ridicule and mock…when self-righteous voices condemn…can I calmly trust in Jesus?

Can I rest in Christ like Knockout rested in the assurance of my presence?

Lord, teach me to abide in you!

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4)

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

 

Your thoughts?

Peaches and Ferdinand

I believe it was July of 2011 when I came home from work one afternoon to discover my 10-year-old stepson, Dawson, had convinced his grandparents to let him pen a heifer to show in the county fair.

She was a pretty little 1-year-old heifer, peach colored with a white face.  Since she was the color of peaches and cream, we called her Peaches.

Dawson was super excited about her and could not be deterred from wanting to show her.  We all explained that it was much too late in the year for training a show cow.  With the county fair just two months away, there was simply no way she could possibly be ready to show by September.  If he wanted to show her we should have started working with her way back in January or February.

Dawson’s enthusiasm remained steadfast.  He was convinced he could have her ready and was determined to show her at the fair.

So, I determined to help him all I could.

Every day, he and I spent time with Peaches, getting her used to us.  We got her to eat out of our hands and let us pet her.  We taught her to stand tied without too much fuss.  We made a lot of progress with her, but we never did get her to halter lead.

I spent many hours in the pen with Peaches on a calf halter, trying to lead her.  The more I pulled the more she resisted.  She just locked up and refused to budge.

I tried pulling to the side so she had less balance to resist.  She would take one step to the side and go right back into lock-up resistance mode.

We talked to friends who raised show cows asking for advice.  The prevailing advice was to teach her that resistance was futile.  She had to learn that following was her only option.  They advised hooking her to a tractor and pulling her very slowly to teach her to stop resisting and follow the lead.

So, we did that.  I spent many hours slowly driving the tractor around in circles pulling peaches one resistant step after another.  She actually got to where she would half-way follow the tractor, but only with substantial tension in the rope.  With me trying to lead on the ground, she was more resistant than ever.

With final fair entry dates rapidly approaching, Peaches was no closer to being halter trained than the day we started.  We did the only thing we could do…we turned Peaches back out in the pasture with the other cows.

I honestly think I took it harder than Dawson did.  Even though I knew it had been an impossible task from the start, I had gone all-in trying to help him train her, and had failed.

Fast forward to June of 2018…

Sherri’s parents had penned a nice looking 2-year-old bull to keep the older (much larger) bulls from injuring him before he got big enough to protect himself.  With Dad recuperating from surgery I started feeding the bull twice daily.

The bull was super skittish.  When I entered the pen, he fled to the other end.  When I poured his feed, he watched until I left the pen before approaching to eat.  When I tried approaching to pet him while he ate, he fled before I came within two feet.

In July, the bull became covered up with flies, constantly swishing his tail and tossing his head trying to halt their torment.  The poor guy looked absolutely miserable and became even more unapproachable.

I started planning a means of helping him get some relief from the flies.  The best approach would be to fly-spray him, but that would require getting him to stand still long enough to be sprayed.

The last couple of years I’ve been learning a little about horsemanship and I decided to try desensitizing the bull to a spray bottle just as I would a horse.  I filled a spray bottle with water, walked up as close as he would allow, turned my back to him and started squirting water away from him.  He was disturbed and started moving away, so I moved with him, still facing away and still squirting water.  When he stopped, I stopped squirting.  After a few minutes, he would stand still while I squirted water away from him.

Then I started squirting in an arc that got water closer to him, while still facing away from him, and we repeated the same thing until he accepted that.  Then I turned to face him and did the same thing all over again.

At the end of about twenty minutes, he would stand still for spraying.  So I switched bottles and fly-sprayed.

With relief from the flies, he became a much calmer bull.  A few days later he let me pet him while he ate.  A couple of weeks later he started coming to me for treats.  By the end of the month, he was positively friendly.

I started calling him Ferdinand (after the gentle bull in the children’s story) and bought a halter for him.  Using the same pressure and release technique I would use on a horse, I had him following a lead line pretty quickly.  By rewarding the smallest try with instant release, Ferdinand quickly learned what I wanted and followed willingly.

I wouldn’t call him completely halter broke yet, but he leads really well and backs okay when not too distracted.  He and I are having a lot of fun, together!

I keep thinking about these two experiences with cattle training and their completely different outcomes.

With Peaches, I set out specifically to halter train her, spent many hours working with her, and completely failed.  With Ferdinand, I just tried to gain his trust to help alleviate his fly misery…and almost effortlessly halter trained him in just a few minutes a day.

Two drastically different outcomes…based on different approaches.

With Peaches, I set out to make her learn.  We had a very tight time table and needed to progress rapidly.  I viewed her as being stubborn and acted accordingly trying to show her resistance was futile.  It was a fast-paced conquer-by-force approach that did not work well at all.

With Ferdinand, I set out to gain his trust in order to help him.  I used timing of pressure and release to teach him a little at a time, only giving him as much as he was prepared to accept…and it worked incredibly well.

Isn’t it the same way with people?  We set out to make somebody do something or to prove somebody wrong and our headstrong approach is met with nothing but resistance.  If we, instead, set out to gain someone’s trust in order to help them see things a little differently, we may see drastically improved results.

I’m sure glad God uses a gentle approach with us!

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

P.S.  Oh…about Peaches…  Peaches is still part of the herd and is a good mama-cow.  All that time spent with her was not wasted.  She is the calmest, gentlest cow in the herd.  Lately, I’ve been using her to help train my horse, Knockout, to move cattle.  She is super easy to guide from one end of the pasture to the other.  She makes Knockout and me look really good, providing good practice and confidence building.

Your thoughts?

 

Empathy

I just finished reading another of Mark Rashid’s books, titled “Considering the Horse.”  Like most of Mark’s books, it is a series of autobiographical short stories intended to each illustrate some aspect of horsemanship.

This particular book has an overarching theme Mark continually returns to, using the final chapters to bring it all together and drive home his primary point.  That main theme is the importance of really trying to understand the horse’s perspective.

Here is a quote from the final chapter:

The way I see it, just about the only time we ever do any communication to the horse at all is when we’re trying to show him how to respond properly to us.  On the other hand, when the horse communicates to us, he’s usually trying to show us what he’s thinking or feeling.  In a sense, he’s trying to teach us about himself and how to communicate on his level.  We just never take the time to put ourselves in the role of the student and learn from what he’s trying to teach.

Mark didn’t use the word empathy, but that’s what he is talking about.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. (Wikipedia)

Throughout the book, Mark does a great job of illustrating why this is so important.  Training a horse is all about communication, and if we want to communicate we need to understand how the horse feels about what we’re doing.  Moreover, a horse learns best when he’s relaxed and paying attention.  Much like us, when a horse is in fight-or-flight mode he’s not real open to learning new concepts.

In this book Mark calls the reader to a deeper level of empathy.  He illustrates how horses sometimes work hard at trying to communicate something that’s really important to them…and we tend to overlook it because it doesn’t seem important to us.  If it is important enough to the horse to work hard at communicating…and if the horse is important to us…maybe we should work harder at trying to understand.

I was reminded of an incident a few weeks ago.  I was working with our 3 year old colt, Archie.  I had groomed and saddled Archie, then left him tied while I walked back in the house to grab my riding helmet.  When I came back out, I walked straight to the front girth and cinched it snug.  Archie looked straight at me, then turned his head to point his nose at the girth.  Then he repeated the gesture, each time looking me straight in the eye.

“What is it, Archie?  Is something wrong with your girth?” I asked.

I loosened the cinch, felt around for any obstructions, smoothed everything out, and snugged it up again.

Archie repeated the same signals, letting me know he wanted the girth loosened.  So, I loosened it again, talked to him for a couple of minutes, and tightened it one notch…talked to him some more…then tightened it another notch.  Then I loosened it again and repeated.

We took about ten minutes to just discuss the girth, how Archie felt about the girth, and what we could do to help Archie feel confident with the girth snugged for riding.  I never did find anything wrong with the girth, but we took the time to make sure Archie was okay with the pressure.

Now, I could easily have ignored Archie’s communication and simply mounted up.  The odds are good that everything would have been fine.  Archie is usually a pretty calm fellow and he trusts me, so he likely would have been fine.  However, since the girth was enough of an issue for him to work hard at communicating his concern, it seemed prudent to at least check things out and let him know his feelings are a priority to me.

Thinking about these things, I’m reminded how seldom we really listen to our fellow humans.  Too often, my communication is all about trying to get my point across or trying to explain why my point is so important.  It’s easy to neglect taking the time to try to understand the other person’s perspective.

Yet, it is in acknowledging the validity of the other person’s perspective that we show respect for them as an individual.  It is also how we learn how they feel and what is important to them.  In a sense, by sharing their perspective with us, they are teaching us how to effectively communicate with them.

Furthermore, much like horses, when we are in defense mode it is very difficult for us to learn new concepts.  By taking the time to try to understand and acknowledge the other person’s perspective, I allow them to move out of defense mode…which makes it easier for them to listen to my perspective.

Those are some of the practical reasons for learning to listen empathetically.  But there are a plethora of other reasons having to do with respect for the dignity of the individual…recognizing we are all created in the image of God…building relationships based on mutual respect…treating others as we like to be treated…celebrating our humanity…

For the Christian, there is yet another reason.  It is how we express our love for Christ.

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)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:40)

Loving others as Jesus loves us is the vow…the new commandment…of our new covenant with Christ.  As Christians, we are called to wholeheartedly live out that covenant vow.

A friend recently asked how we love our neighbor.  That’s not an easy question to answer…and the answer may be as unique as each individual.  However, I think empathy…listening with the intent of trying to understand the other person’s perspective…is a key component.

Moreover, this is an aspect of love we can employ even in social media.  Want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God on social media?  Try setting aside your political agenda or your doctrinal defense long enough to really explore, understand, and acknowledge the other person’s perspective.

Isn’t that what Jesus did?  Isn’t that what He calls us to do?

Relationship versus Rules

Saturday morning, Knockout and I started out on a relaxing pasture ride.

We rode through the arena, out into the back pasture, where we checked the cattle. We crossed the creek and headed toward the back corner, where we entered the woods.  We meandered thru several loops of woods trails, crossing creeks as we went.

It was one of those wonderfully light rides where everything feels effortless. My cues were light and Knockout was soft and responsive.

Yes, I was directing Knockout, but not in an overbearing way. It was more of a conversation, where I politely asked and Knockout willingly responded.  Sometimes, Knockout anticipated before I asked and I just went with him.  Other times, Knockout suggested a turn and I said no…but even the no was light and Knockout’s response was soft.

It was wonderful!

Then we turned up toward the gate to the front pasture.

At first, Knockout willingly complied…but then he started drifting right toward the arena. I brought him back toward the pasture gate…and he promptly drifted right, again.  We did that several times, then Knockout tried going left.  I brought him back to center and he over-responded going too far right.

Knockout’s intent was clear. He didn’t want to ride in the front pasture.  He was ready to go back to the arena and unsaddle.  Knockout was ready for the ride to be over.

I’ve dealt with this sort of dodgy behavior before, so it was not a big deal. I gathered the reins in both hands, holding them wide, low, and forward with just a small amount of slack.  This left Knockout with restricted freedom between left-and-right rein pressures.  So long as he stayed in the middle there was no pressure, but if he turned his head to either side he ran into pressure.

At the same time, I reinforced the rein pressure with leg pressure, holding my body firmly forward so that any turns to left or right were countered with simultaneous rein and leg pressure.

That is how we rode thru the pasture gate…with Knockout trying to dodge left or right while I held him firmly to a forward path.

Once thru the gate, Knockout settled a bit and we continued our ride without further incident.

Do you see what happened, there?

The whole first half of our ride was smooth and light…enjoying each other’s presence…attentively listening to each other…respecting each other’s input. The whole first half of our ride, Knockout was actively seeking and following my will.  I was polite and soft with my direction and Knockout was willingly responsive.  I barely touched the reins, because there was simply no need.  My seat, legs and reins were used for communication, rather than for forcing my will on Knockout.

But when I pointed Knockout toward the pasture gate, that all changed.

Knockout was not disobedient or disrespectful. He still followed my cues.  Knockout still went where I told him to.  But he stopped seeking my will.  He stopped seeking to please me.

Rather than willingly responding to a light cue, he started ignoring the light cues…as though he hadn’t heard my ask.

When I reinforced the light cue with a firmer cue, rather than appropriately responding, Knockout over-responded. I asked for a step right, and he took three steps right.

Knockout was still following my rules…but he was no longer seeking my will. Knockout stopped using my soft cues as a communication tool to understand and do my will.  Instead, he began over-responding to my firmer cues in an attempt to use my cues to accomplish his will.

At that point, Knockout reverted to legalism.

For that stretch between the end of one woods trail to the front pasture gate, Knockout was rigidly following firm rules with no regard for my will. For that short stretch, our relationship ceased to be about understanding…and reverted to rigid rules-following.  Knockout responded to my cues, not by seeking my will, but by swinging too far one way, then too far the other.

This is what we do when we attempt to use the Bible to replace the work of the Holy Spirit. We start seeing scripture, not as a revelation to draw us into relationship with Christ, but rather as a mystical rule book filled with rigid rules of behavior complete with exception clauses and loop holes to be broadly enforced in all life circumstances.  The more we focus on ‘the rules’ the less attention we pay to pursuing God’s heart…because we assume we’re abiding in His will by following ‘the rules.’

Much like Knockout obeyed my cues while ignoring my will, we attempt to follow God’s rules while completely missing God’s heart.

Scripture is not intended to tell us what to do in all of life’s circumstances. Scripture is intended to lead us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  The written word is intended to be just one of multiple means of communication between us and God.

Yes, scripture is important…very important…much as my reins are important while riding. When the relationship is working well, the reins are a communication tool to help telegraph my body language, rather than an enforcement tool to impose my will.

Trying to live a life pleasing to God by simply following scripture, without listening to the Holy Spirit, would be like Knockout following my prompts without trying to discern my will. Yes, we eventually got thru the pasture gate…but it was a lot harder than necessary and not very enjoyable for either of us.

Rigid rules and inflexible edicts are a form of communication…but they tend to lead toward resistance rather than understanding.

Jesus came to show us the Father’s heart…and He sent the Holy Spirit to lead us in understanding.

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)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:25-26)

So, how can we know when we’ve gravitated toward legalism rather than relationship?

Scripture provides a good measuring stick:

He has told you,
O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

When defending doctrinal position leads us to focus on arrogantly telling people how they should behave, rather than on justice and kindness, it’s a sure sign we have let legalistic rules blind us to God’s heart.

Jesus said it even more succinctly:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)

Love others as Christ loves us. This is our commission.  This is our calling.  This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Free Gear

Knockout in his new headstall

A few weeks ago, I won a beautiful new headstall in a drawing at the Carson James on-line horsemanship group. This headstall is much fancier and more expensive than any I would have bought for myself.

The last three headstalls I purchased were just plain brown leather. They’re good quality, but very plain looking.  They serve their function without being decorative in any way.  They are on the lower end of the expense scale and serve my need just fine.

This new headstall has lots of fancy stitching, colorful thread decoration, and big shiny conchos. This new eye-catching headstall is designed to be decorative as well as functional.

It is not at all the sort of headstall I would have bought for myself. It has way too much expensive glitz that does nothing to improve my riding.

But it sure is pretty!

As soon as the new headstall arrived, I fitted it with Knockout’s favorite bit and my favorite reins. Next morning, I tried it on Knockout to see how it fit.

It looks great on Knockout!

I must say, it’s pretty cool having such nice gear to use. It’s even better having fancy, expensive gear I didn’t have to pay for.

I like the new headstall so much, the next week I put our fancy new saddle on Knockout for our Sunday morning pasture ride.

Knockout in our new Ken Raye custom saddle

Now, this saddle is a really nice, very unique, very expensive saddle. Much like the new headstall, it is way fancier and far more expensive than I would ever have bought for myself.

We won this saddle in a drawing almost three years ago, at the horse sale where we bought Knockout. The saddle was custom made by Ken Raye’s Custom Saddlery, especially for the 2015 Return to the Remuda Sale, held at the Four-Sixes Ranch in West Texas.  It has the brands of the six participating ranches inlaid in the hand-tooled leather.

At this particular sale, the lot number of each horse sold was placed in a bucket for a drawing at the end of the sale. We bought one horse at that sale.  In fact, I entered only one bid in the sale.  I placed one bid on one horse.  I bought the horse at the price we wanted and won a saddle valued somewhere on the range of what we paid for the horse.

I told Sherri she can’t take me to any more horse sales…I’m completely ruined…my expectations are now way too high.  🙂

I usually think of expensive prizes as requiring a lot of talent to win. In the western horsemanship tradition, belt buckles, saddles, and tack are awarded as prizes in competitions.  As a general rule, the really nice expensive prizes are associated with higher stakes and more difficult competition.  A horseman has to be very skilled to win such nice prizes as these.

But…it turns out, you don’t need competitive skills at all…you just need to be lucky! 🙂

That beautiful, custom-made saddle has sat unused in our house for almost three years. Last week, I finally rode with it.

What took me so long?

Well…it’s complicated…

Partly, it is simply that the saddle is so nice and so expensive we want to take really good care of it. We don’t want it ruined by rain, mud, spur scars, scratches, etc.  It’s a beautiful saddle and we want to keep it looking good.

Partly, it is that I don’t do much riding in public. Almost all my riding is done right around our farm and most of it is solo.  I’m not a competitive rider, nor do I aspire to be.  So, for my purposes, a fancy saddle requiring special care and cleaning after each ride is just more hassle than grabbing my usual saddle that I don’t have to worry about.

But there is another factor, too. Maybe it’s best described as a worthiness factor.

I tend to associate nice expensive saddles with high levels of horsemanship skills. As a novice horseman, it sort of felt like I would be putting on airs if I started using an expensive decorative saddle.  Having done nothing to earn such a nice prize, I didn’t feel worthy of using it.  I know it may sound strange, but I was sort of waiting to reach a higher level of ability…waiting to become a real horseman…before I used that saddle.

And the problem with waiting to become a real horseman is that the finish line keeps moving. Like many other things in life, with horsemanship, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.  I am a much better horseman than I was two years ago.  Yet, the distance between where I am and where I would like to be is now much further than it was two years ago.

So that beautiful, fancy, new, custom saddle sat unused in our house…until last weekend. Last weekend, I decided a free saddle is a free saddle.  The whole point of free is that it doesn’t have to be earned or deserved…it just has to be appreciated and enjoyed.

That saddle wasn’t being properly enjoyed sitting in the house. And my goal of waiting to become a real horseman before I used it was an unrealistic and unnecessary requirement.

I still want to take good care of the saddle. So, for now at least, I plan to use it for Sunday morning rides before church…because I intentionally keep those rides low-key and fairly short.  My Sunday morning rides aren’t so much about training as they are about relaxing and enjoying.

Sunday morning is about listeninglistening to my horse…listening to my heart…listening to My Father…listening to His creation. Sunday morning is about enjoying and appreciating…enjoying fellowship…appreciating free gifts…appreciating God’s grace.

Much like my fancy new headstall and expensive new saddle, God’s grace cannot be earned or deserved. I don’t have to be good enough to merit His grace.  I just have to be lucky enough to discover it…and thankful enough to enjoy it.