Why God Gives Us Horses - and Takes Them Away
God gives us horses and compels some of us to love them. Yet why does
the horse, an animal with such a big heart, live such a short life?
Perhaps it's because if our horses lived any longer, we wouldn't be able
to bear losing them. Or, perhaps it's because God wants to jump.
Perhaps God looks down on the fine horses we raise and decides when it's
His turn to ride. He gives us a few good years to care for and learn
from them, but when the time is right, it's up to us to see them off
OK, perhaps not gracefully. Blowing into a Kleenex is rarely graceful.
But we can be grateful.
To have a horse in your life is a gift. In the matter of a few short
years, a horse can teach a girl courage, if she chooses to grab mane and
hang on for dear life. Even the smallest of ponies is mightier than the
tallest of girls. To conquer the fear of falling off, having one's toes
crushed, or being publicly humiliated at a horse show is an admirable
feat for any child. For that, we can be grateful.
Horses teach us responsibility. Unlike a bicycle - or a computer - a
horse needs regular care and most of it requires that you get dirty and
smelly and up off the couch. Choosing to leave your cozy kitchen to
break the crust of ice off the water buckets is to choose
responsibility. When our horses dip their noses and drink heartily, we
know we've made the right choice.
Learning to care for a horse is both an art and a science. Some are easy
keepers, requiring little more than regular turn-out, a flake of hay,
and a trough of clean water. Others will test you - you'll struggle to
keep them from being too fat or too thin. You'll have their feet shod
regularly only to find shoes gone missing. Some are so accident-prone
you'll swear they're intentionally finding new ways to injure themselves.
If you weren't raised with horses, you can't know that they have unique
personalities. You'd expect this from dogs, but horses? Indeed, there
are clever horses, grumpy horses, and even horses with a sense of humor.
Those prone to humor will test you by finding new ways to escape from
the barn when you least expect it. I found one of ours on the front
porch one morning, eating the cornstalks I'd carefully arranged as
Horses can be timid or brave, lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing.
You will hit it off with some horses and others will elude you
altogether. There are as many "types" of horses as there are people -
which makes the whole partnership thing all the more interesting.
If you've never ridden a horse, you probably assume it's a simple thing
you can learn in a weekend. You can, in fact, learn the basics on a
Sunday - but to truly ride well takes a lifetime. Working with a living
being is far more complex than turning a key in the ignition and putting
the car in "drive."
In addition to listening to your instructor, your horse will have a few
things to say to you as well. On a good day, he'll be happy to go along
with the program and tolerate your mistakes; on a bad day, you'll swear
he's trying to kill you. Perhaps he's naughty or perhaps he's fed up
with how slowly you're learning his language. Regardless, the horse will
have an opinion. He may choose to challenge you (which can ultimately
make you a better rider) or he may carefully carry you over fences...if
it suits him. It all depends on the partnership - and partnership is
what it's all about.
If you face your fears, swallow your pride, and are willing to work at
it, you'll learn lessons in courage, commitment, and compassion, in
addition to basic survival skills. You'll discover just how hard you're
willing to work toward a goal, how little you know, and how much you
have to learn. And, while some people think the horse "does all the
work", you'll be challenged physically as well as mentally. Your horse
may humble you completely. Or, you may find that sitting on his back is
the closest you'll get to heaven.
You can choose to intimidate your horse, but do you really want to? The
results may come more quickly, but will your work ever be as graceful as
that gained through trust? The best partners choose to listen, as well
as to tell. When it works, we experience a sweet sense of accomplishment
brought about by smarts, hard work, and mutual understanding between
horse and rider. These are the days when you know with absolute
certainty that your horse is enjoying his work.
If we make it to adulthood with horses still in our lives, most of us
have to squeeze riding into our over saturated schedules; balancing our
need for things equine with those of our households and employers. There
is never enough time to ride, or to ride as well as we'd like. Hours in
the barn are stolen pleasures.
If it is in your blood to love horses, you share your life with them.
Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and
whisper our hopes into their ears. A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled
world, a sheltered place where life's true priorities are clear: a warm
place to sleep, someone who loves us, and the luxury of regular
meals...Some of us need these reminders.
When you step back, it's not just about horses - its about love, life,
and learning. On any given day, a friend is celebrating the birth of a
foal, a blue ribbon, or recovery from an illness. That same day, there
is also loss: a broken limb, a case of colic, or a decision to sustain a
life or end it gently. As horse people, we share the accelerated life
cycle of horses: the hurried rush of life, love, loss, and death that
caring for these animals bring us. When our partners pass, it is more
than a moment of sorrow.
We mark our loss with words of gratitude for the ways our lives have
been blessed. Our memories are of joy, awe, and wonder. Absolute union .
We honor our horses for their brave hearts, courage, and willingness to
To those outside our circle, it must seem strange. To see us in our
muddy boots, who would guess such poetry lives in our hearts? We
celebrate our companions with praise worthy of heroes. Indeed, horses
have the hearts of warriors and often carry us into and out of fields of
Listen to stories of that once-in-a-lifetime horse; of journeys made and
challenges met. The best of horses rise to the challenges we set before
them, asking little in return.
Those who know them understand how fully a horse can hold a human heart.
Together, we share the pain of sudden loss and the lingering taste of
long-term illness. We shoulder the burden of deciding when or whether to
end the life of a true companion.
In the end, we're not certain if God entrusts us to our horses or our
horses to us. Does it matter? We're grateful God loaned us the horse in
the first place.
Written by Connie Willis