Awhile ago I began working with a horse named Sierra. Sierra is 10 years old and hasn’t had much training or groundwork in the recent years. I can tell that she has had some work previously, though.
I am pursuing Sierra. I want to build mutual trust and respect with her. The first time I had her in the oval training ring, she ran around and around that ring. She had a halter on, but no lead rope attached to me. I stood in the middle of the ring, relaxed, waiting for her to find me. You see, horses are prey and herd animals and they NEED to have someone with whom they can trust - one who is not a predator. Usually in a herd, there is an alpha, a leader. And within the herd, there is a pecking order. That herd stays together for protection – they watch out for one another. Within Sierra’s herd is her mother, Kate. They have always been together, and Sierra rarely leaves Kate’s side.
Sierra wasn’t removed from her herd when I brought her to the ring that first time. She had been tied in the barn getting groomed. She was relatively relaxed. Still she was separated from her herd. Other horses in the barn were whinnying, and she would pause from her run, and call back to them. She was quite frantic, in fact. It was a warm day, but she was sweating profusely. I was told that the sweat stains on her body were patterned from anxiety, not from running around or working hard.
I continued to allow her to run, and if she paused, I would turn toward her with the carrot stick in my hand and “whip” the ground to get her to continue. Sierra’s sensitivity would rarely make it necessary for me to do this – usually just turning to look her way would cause her to continue to move.
The purpose of this exercise is to cause the horse to calm down and approach me. Horses in this situation rarely approach a human’s front, they usually come up from behind. This is due to the fact that to a horse, a human is a predator. We have eyes in the front of our heads, like other predators. Because horses are so sensitive, just looking straight on at them puts pressure on them. Alone and away from the herd, a horse feels especially vulnerable.
After about 15-20 minutes of me standing there relaxed while she ran, Sierra approached me from behind. I would not turn to her, unless she touched me with her muzzle. This action is a horse’s way of showing that they accept and trust you. Turning too soon could cause her to be wary and take off running again. Finally, she touched my arm with her nose. Slowly I turned and stroked her neck and side, talking softly to her. I turned away and began walking to one end of the ring. She followed directly behind me. I knew I had her, and she knew she could trust me at that moment.
This exercise with Sierra mimics a game that horses play with one another. But as I’ve pondered this, and the next episode with Sierra, it reminded me of our relationship with God. He pursues us. Sometimes we run and run and run. Some never stop running. Sometimes we finally accept and trust in Him, and we walk directly into His arms. Some never do. The difference is, He is not our predator, but protects us from one who is. The sooner we stop running and trust Him, the safer we’ll feel away from our “herd”. I totally know how Sierra feels. Being alone with the Lord can be a scary thing. You can’t hide any thing from Him, no matter how hard you try. You might show some anxiety sweat stains, too. But I’ve learned that He’s persistent and consistent, trustworthy, loving, and gentle.
Because of Sierra’s trust in me, she allowed me to play more “games” with her. She was not anxious for the rest of our time together that day. The next day I went to work with her again. This time, she was in the pasture with her mates. Because I had to pull her away from her herd, I was extremely anxious. I didn’t know how she would react being taken away. She was receptive to putting on her halter, and to walking out of the pasture, and was fine all the way to the training ring. I, on the other hand, was trembling. My fear was that she would rear up and hurt me because I was taking her away. She did not, and I calmed down eventually. We repeated our exercise once we got into the ring. I unhooked her from the lead rope. Off she ran. I went back into the center of the ring and waited patiently. Again she ran and ran, but this time, she approached me within about 7 minutes. It was a miracle to me. Sierra had some issues playing other games that day, but all in all she did great! I must be persistent to overcome my fear, as well as helping her overcome hers. We will continue to work together.
The Lord will work with us, too. He will wait patiently, no matter how long we run. The quicker we stop running, using up all of this energy, and trust in Him, the quicker we will be able to draw on His strength. “The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power”. Isaiah 40:28,29. It’s a mutual trust and respect thing!!