I was a small kid, and she was a 1200-pound horse.
So when she started dragging me through the barn to get at the tasty grass outside, there wasn’t much I could do.
This happened over and over until I finally learned how to persevere long enough to get my horse under control.
But perseverance wasn’t the only lesson I learned from working with horses!
I rode and trained horses for twelve years, and it was a transformative experience for me. Horses and their personalities shaped my understanding of the world as I grew up.
Over the years, I realized that I could also understand more about God and my relationship with Him through my work with horses – and I truly believe that He used these horses in my life to teach me valuable spiritual lessons!
My Quarter Horse mare, Isabella, was one of my dearest friends through my teenage years, but she was a handful.
As I trained her, I often found myself laughing at her tendencies towards disobedience…until I realized that they were eerily like my own.
Here’s a few of the things I learned from Bella and the other horses in my life.
1. God sees the big picture, even when we can’t.
The scene I described above, where Bella dragged me down the barn aisle or across the yard in pursuit of that fresh green grass, happened more often than I care to admit! I was a small girl, so controlling a full-size mare with an appetite for dandelions was difficult.
Sometimes, as a special treat after a long ride, I would take Bella outside to graze in the fields because I knew that’s where the tastiest grass could be found.
The mare would pull and yank at her lead rope, trying to get to a small patch of grass that was closer so she could start eating right away. But I could see past the grass right in front of her, which was nothing compared to the knee-high scrumptiousness farther out!
I wanted to lead Bella to better grass, but she still fought me.
All she could see was the grass near her, and she didn’t trust that I would let her rest and eat later on.
I used to laugh at Bella’s tenacity, until I realized that I was just like her.
I liked to linger in the places that I thought were best for me, even when God wanted to lead me on to things He knew were better than what I could imagine.
“My ways are better than your ways” (Isa. 55:9), God was telling me—but like a stubborn horse, I often refused to listen.
2. God is not scared by the things that spook us.
In addition to riding my own horse Bella, I had the amazing opportunity to train a young horse, Ziggy.
He was often flighty and nervous, spooking at nonexistent monsters in the bushes or windows. I first fell off Ziggy when he decided that a gentle spring breeze was the breath of a dragon that wanted to attack him!
As a human who could see and understand much more than Ziggy could, I was easily exasperated when he spooked at things that weren’t even there. How could I teach him that there was nothing to be scared of in the arena railing?
Then I started to wonder if I acted the same way with God—except in this case, I was the frightened horse. I ducked away from the things that scared me without stopping to see if they were even worth being scared of.
“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). Maybe I couldn’t teach Ziggy to be as bold as a lion, but I could learn to trust God more myself.
After all, He saw everything that I couldn’t and He wasn’t scared at all.
3. God loves to see us come running to Him.
When I first fell off Ziggy, I was more worried about him than myself. Training a young horse to be ridden is a delicate process requiring a lot of trust, and feeling me fall off his back could easily have been a traumatic experience for Ziggy.
I stood up as fast as I could, only to find that Ziggy had made a loop across the arena and was coming back to me.
Even though he was scared, his reflex was to come running back to me, his trainer, and calm down in my presence. It was an emotional moment as I realized that I’d built a true bond with this young horse.
Can you imagine how much more God delights to see us come running to Him with our fears and our struggles?
The parable of the prodigal son tells us how God reacts when we behave like Ziggy, “…while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him,” (Luke 15:20).
And yes, I probably did give Ziggy a kiss before I got back on and tried again.
4. God’s timing is perfect.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was put Bella down.
Her health was declining, so it was a natural decision that I’d been preparing for, but I still found myself sobbing as the vet put my beloved mare to sleep.
Twelve years didn’t feel like a long time once I started looking back on it, but I was eventually able to focus on my good memories of Bella and appreciate God’s timing in putting her in my life.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun,” (Ecc. 3:1). The twelve years I spent riding and training horses were placed perfectly in a formative time of my life.
God knew that it was the right time for me to stop working with horses so that I could focus on other things – graduate school, relationships, and a cross-country move. I can see it all clearly in retrospect.
It’s amazing to me how God uses His creation to demonstrate His love and care in our lives.
What lessons have you learned from the animals in your life?