Friday evening I spent a little time working with Archie, our 2-year-old stud colt.
I was asking Archie to yield to tail pressure. If I tugged his tail to the left, I wanted him to step his hindquarters left. If I tugged his tail to the right, I wanted him to step right. It sounds simple, but there’s actually a lot going on in this learning exercise.
We had to overcome a horse’s natural instinct to escape entrapment. Natural instinct tells a horse when his tail is tugged left he should move away by stepping right…the opposite of what I was asking.
We had to develop understanding. When I first started tugging on Archie’s tail, he had absolutely no idea what I wanted him to do. The cue had no meaning to him, so he simply followed his instincts.
We also had to develop discernment. Archie had to learn to distinguish between a tug to the left versus a tug to the right, and the different response expected for each.
So we started working on the left side. I tugged left and Archie stepped right. As he moved away from me, I increased the pressure. He took another step right. I moved with him holding the pressure as he took a couple more steps to the right. Then he tried moving forward. I stayed with him, holding pressure until he ran out of room to move forward. Finally, he took just a little half step to the left and I instantly let go of his tail.
Then we repeated the process over and over as Archie learned to understand a tug to the left meant I wanted a step to the left.
Once we had the left side working halfway decent we started working on the right side. His resistance on the right side was initially much worse than on the left side. He had just learned that a tail tug meant step left and he was determined to do what he had just learned. He had no understanding that a tug to the right was a different cue from a tug to the left. So we practiced the right side until he understood the expectation then went back to the left side…which was now confused by work on the right side.
With patience and consistency we got it sorted out. Archie learned to distinguish between a left tug and a right tug as well as the expected response to each.
At one point in our training session, I would lift his tail while standing on his right, and he would instantly shift his weight left, bracing against the tug he knew was coming. I would give a light tug and he would resist. I would hold the pressure with a soft firmness and after a few seconds he would relax and step right.
We practiced that a few more times.
Then we finally reached a point where I lifted his tail while standing on his right, and he shifted his weight to the right, ready to respond to the tug he knew was coming. I softly tugged and he just gave to the cue by stepping over…smooth…soft…light…fluid.
There it is! There’s that softness Ray Hunt (and other great horsemen) wrote about!
When we started, it felt like trying to drag a rope tied to a 500 lb weight! Actually…that’s exactly what it was…dragging a 500 lb horse around by the tail.
By the time we finished, it was no more effort than dragging a newspaper across a smooth counter.
Archie was soft to my feel. He was light. He anticipated my ask by preparing to respond rather than by preparing to resist.
That’s exactly what we’re working toward…a soft response to a soft ask…
But to get there required a lot of firmness…a lot of consistent persistence…a lot of understanding…a lot of trust…and a lot of respect.
Contemplating that softness this morning, I am reminded of the words of the psalmist:
I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)
Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34)
This is what it means to be soft-hearted…that when I feel the Holy Spirit’s prompt I relax into His will ready to respond as soon as I understand His ask.
The prophet Zechariah provides a contrast showing what it means to be hard-hearted…to respond to God’s prompt by bracing to resist His will:
They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12)
And Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the New Covenant which was enacted by Jesus Christ. Rather than laws carved in stone rigidly followed out of fear, the Holy Spirit teaches us softness…a soft response to a soft ask:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
What a gentle master! He calls us to a relationship of willing response based on trust and respect as we learn to rely on His goodness and faithfulness.
Early in that training session, we had to work past Archie’s confusion over different prompts. It took him a little while to discern the difference between a tug to the left and a tug to the right, as well as the proper response to each. He knew the tug meant something, but his confusion and natural instincts interfered with clear communication. He stepped wrong as often as right, and always with a good deal of resistance…of first bracing against the tug before eventually giving to it.
I think a lot of Christians reside mostly in that place…sort of stuck early in the training. They haven’t figured out the soft cues and soft responses of the New Covenant. They see rigid laws to be fearfully and woodenly obeyed. Their confusion and natural instincts interfere with clear communication, so they miss the nuances of the Holy Spirit’s prompts. Seeing a fellow believer being tugged left they scream, “Step right! Step right! A tail tug always means step right!”
Blind guides…misapplying rigid laws…while completely missing the Holy Spirit’s soft prompts…
Lord, please continue to be patient with us! Teach us to respond to you, not out of fear in response to laws carved in stone, but out of trust and respect as we learn to respond softly and fluidly to your soft prompts.