Be Strong in the Lord

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit.

— Ephesians 6:10-18a, ESV 2011

Paul writes plainly enough in the passage above. He speaks of a struggle, a wrestling match, the present darkness, and spiritual forces. And then he gives us a concrete picture of the defence God has given us against all of these terrors.

I, for one, find it hard to really grasp what each of these items of armour do for us, because armour is something I am unfamiliar with. What has been helpful for me is making the metaphor into another metaphor (which is not ideal, but has its merits).

I call it the Tack of God.

The Belt of Truth

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.”

— Zechariah 8:16-17

This is most akin to the girth or cinch we often take for granted. It holds everything together, keeps the saddle on the horse’s back straight, which helps to keep us on the horse. Truth does this also; recognizing truth and speaking it (in love, as Paul says elsewhere) keeps us straight on God’s path.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.”

— Proverbs 11:5

A breastcollar illustrates this well. In the days of knights, a horse’s breastcollar would keep its most vulnerable part, the chest, safe from arrows. But in the modern day, we use it to prevent a saddle from sliding to the side or backwards, especially when doing active ranch work. What will righteousness do for us? When by God’s grace alone we are above reproach, we can reach down from our saddle without fear of sliding under our horse’s belly to help someone else.

The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

— Romans 1:16

Protective boots used on a horse to prevent tendon strains, or overreach boots, or horseshoes, all illustrate this point. Their main objective is to prevent the horse from harm. It takes some time to put them on and put them on properly so that injury is not accidentally sustained, but when they are on, they afford valuable protection. We can step with sure feet when we know what we believe and are able to defend the gospel that will ultimately bring peace to the world. The ESV speaks of a ‘readiness’ to go and speak these words of life, and with the protection afforded by boots or shoes, our horses can go anywhere.

The Shield of Faith

For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

— Romans 1:17

This may be a stretch, but the saddle applies itself to faith. It gives you some measure of stickability when things get rough, something to hold onto. But more than that, it also prevents injury to the horse’s spine by lifting the rider’s weight off of it. The shield of faith is supposed to deflect the lies Satan wants us to believe. With or without a saddle, we can ride as fast as that horse can run.

The Helmet of Salvation

Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing on your people!

— Psalm 3:8, ESV 2011

Those of you who ride with helmets may be thinking that that is what I am about to say. But the bridle is what I chose for this one. What horse wears a bridle or a hackamore, or even a halter? One that is domesticated. It is a mark, indicating that this horse is different. Our salvation in a very real sense makes us different than the world around us. We are marked with it, and when we are saved, we submit to our Lord, as the horse submits to us.

The Sword of the Spirit

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

— John 16:13, ESV 2011

Paul is very clear that this is the Word of God, the Bible. Because of this, my analogy is weakened here, but for the Sword I chose the reins. The Spirit was sent to guide God’s people into the way of righteousness. The reins or lead rope are our method of guiding and directing our horses. The Spirit does this gently and in many different ways, like we are supposed to.

The Horsegentler

A Horseman’s Philosophy

By now, those of you who are serious about horses and have been reading some of the books found on my Manes and Tales Booklist will have realized that every trainer has their own philosophy. On this website, I have taken everything I have learned, pared out the parts I disagree with or find are not optimal when compared with other methods, and conglomerated it all into one place. By looking at other trainers who have done this, I see that this is one of the best ways of truly becoming a good horse person.

I bring this up because I have a lot of new methods and thoughts in my arsenal right now. I recently attended a clinic put on by Josh Nichol, an Alberta trainer who has a very different philosophy than any trainer I have met before. A lot of what he said stuck with me, but with one caveat. As he said himself, his is a philosophy that you either take or leave. It either turns you on or turns you off; you want more, or you want nothing to do with it.

Here are some of the things he said (paraphrased, because I could not write fast enough to keep up!):

Every horse has needs, and when we meet those needs, we have a happy horse.

In other words, the problems we see in horses (bucking, shying, walking away during mounting) all indicate an underlying need that is not being met. Hint: the need is not to be corrected or ‘put in his place.’

Leadership and balance are the two main things in horsemanship. Once you have leadership, things can start getting balanced. With balance comes self-carriage, collection, and a horse that is physically able to do what is asked of him.

We take the leadership role in a horse/human relationship. But how often do we think of leadership as dictatorship? Josh drew a sharp distinction between the two. Dictatorship is one person telling everyone else what to do. Leadership is a conversation, and the one who has the strongest ideas is the one that will be followed. This is why some horses walk all over their handlers (figuratively, I hope). The horse is the one with the ideas, and the handler says, ‘oh, okay!’ and backs off. Leadership is saying, ‘no, I really want to do this!’ and the horse replies, ‘alright. I kinda wanted to just hang out here, but this sounds like fun too.’

As for the balance part, a horse naturally has balance. But when we go and jump on their backs, a lot of them lose it. They can’t seem to keep their feet in order underneath them. Only once we have their trust in our leadership can we help them to begin setting their feet straight, and once they can do that, they can hold their body straight, and then they can turn in circles without falling over, and then they can start making themselves look pretty like they do in the field, and the dominoes continue right down to collection.

Every horse has a monument and a donkey.

This was my favourite part. I see a lot of donkeys in the circles I ride in. A rider is praised if she strongly corrects a horse, even if no offence was committed. She’s ‘showing him who’s boss.’ If another rider gets on that horse and he rides it so poetically that he totally disappears from the equation and onlookers notice only how beautiful the horse looks, he receives no congratulations. The horse does.

That, in essence, is why Josh’s philosophy is taken up by so few. Our motives for riding, training, and any other horse activity is glory. My friends, this ought not be so. It is our job to find that monument and bring it out, to bring glory to God for the wonderful creatures He has made, and to forego whatever glory might have come to us.

How many of us have been taught from the first day we handled a horse how to correct it—usually by strong-arming it back to where it should have been, dragging it by the head? I was taught that. This ‘normal’ philosophy comes out when I am riding, too. When the horse refuses to stop, for instance. What were we all taught to do? Pull its head to its side so it has to circle tightly. It can’t run like that, right? Well, just this weekend I heard about a horse who did manage to run at full gallop with its head tilted to the side by its rider, and I cannot imagine anything more dangerous.

Josh Nichol believes that behind these behaviours we feel we need to correct, there is an underlying problem. He does not attack the particular behaviour, but seeks to find out what is really going on. He addresses the horse where it is at, not where it appears to be.

This is a philosophy not many will submit to taking. I, for one, am taking it.

The Horsegentler

When Enough is Enough

I learned a really important lesson the last time I was working with a horse.

She is a new mare. I had only worked her once before, and this was the second time I had ridden her. She is a petite Quarab with a very willing personality. Her only really issue (and it’s a big one) is that she really has no idea what ground manners are. She is nice enough. But no one has ever explained to her that it is impolite to keep on walking when her handler stops right in front of her.

Noella is only 5. She has had maybe two years under saddle, and a bit of preparation before that (though not as much as I would have liked her to have). She is level headed and calm, but zippy and still has a good deal of ‘try,’ though some of it has been lost through the sometimes harsh corrections she has received for not respecting her handler’s space when she had never been taught how to.

Based on that, what she needed help with was recognizing a command and carrying it out. She has no problem carrying out what she is told to do; recognizing when something is a request or an order is more difficult for her. So to practice, I was doing simple transitions. Halt to walk. Walk to halt, back up. Halt to trot. Trot to walk to halt smoothly, back up.

We were doing all right.

She didn’t want to stop, and started bracing her nose into the pressure on the bit, and when we finally did get stopped she had great difficulty backing up, though I knew she could do it with decent skill when I was not riding her.

I couldn’t just keep on pulling on her nose, telling her to stop. I had first made sure that I was following the correct protocol for asking for a halt: lowing my energy, sitting down, heels down, head up, and then and only then using my hands.

Still no response.

Then I tried something my riding instructor had suggested. Instead of pulling straight back, after I had asked correctly I pulled her nose around and had her circle until she stopped.

That helped a little, but it didn’t work so well.

I modified it a little, so that I had her circle once and then I would ask her to stop again. Progress was made—she would stop after three circles, then two, then one. But after stopping for one second, she would forge ahead again, faster than before. And she would start going faster and faster within the gait, too, which she had not done before. She was getting frustrated.

I took her into the middle of the arena and stopped. I had not yet figured out why, but I knew I needed to start again with small  movements, go back to square one and actively help her out. I had essentially forgotten that this was a young horse that needed help with manners and understanding commands and had instead been focusing on the transitions.

The problem was that I had been eternally correcting her. No, you aren’t allowed to speed up. No, you didn’t stop. No, I didn’t ask you to canter, I asked you to move over into the corner. No, no no!

Noella had started to believe she couldn’t do anything right. All I had said to her since I got on was no. What she needed was yes! She has been told no so many times in her life before I started working with her, often when she didn’t even understand why. She didn’t need me to tell her the same things over and over again. She needed me to help her see why.

So in the middle there together, I managed to get her to stop. That was the last time I said no with my hands. I began by asking her to side pass, because on the rail I couldn’t get her to move over without speeding up. She tried to go forward, but I tried not to hold the reins tight. Instead I shifted my weight more dramatically and kept asking. She took one step. I dropped all aids and praised her.

Turn on the forehand. An easy one for her—one step, praise. Another step. What a good girl! At this point she stopped trying to go forwards.

Turn on the haunches. This was a little harder, and she had to move around to figure it out. But one step and a lot of praise, rubs, and encouraging words, and she had it.

As she got each thing by itself, I combined it into a manoeuvre, asking her to complete a box of four turns on the haunches and four straight lines. I had her make a nice balanced circle and make it smaller or bigger with a leg yield. I could feel her changing beneath me.

About twenty minutes later, I took her back out to the rail. I asked for a trot and I got one. Good girl. I asked for a halt. On a dime. Good girl. Back up? Yes ma’am! Sidepass into the ring, and back out. Well done! She didn’t even try to speed up.

Enough was enough on the rail. She had been trying her hardest to do what I wanted, and all I told her was that she was doing it wrong. When I shifted my focus to making her look good, not making me and what I could make her do look good, she started floating through what I asked.

I had a different horse.

I wonder now how many times I have missed the more subtle messages of a more experience horse saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ It took this young mare screaming at me for me to understand that she didn’t and to get creative about how to meet her needs.

Your horse has needs, too. What is he telling you?

The Horsegentler

Equal, but Different

When I was younger, I used to wish I had been born a boy. I thought that they could do more, could climb trees better, and had more opportunities.

Besides, it was obvious that God doesn’t use girls. He calls wives the ‘weaker partner,’ and so he can’t expect much at all of females. All of his great heroes in the Bible were male. I was feeling left out and sorry for myself. To me, Ephesians 5:22-24 condemns young ladies (even those of us who aren’t married yet):

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

A lot of people take these verses and 1 Peter 3:1-7 as grounds for one of two extremes. Either they lower their expectations of girls and women to a manageable height for the weaker partner while men are encouraged to ignore women or simply use them, or they encourage women to break out of God’s bondage and rebel against Him, while men are pushed out of the picture and relegated to the couch in front of the TV.

Both are convenient ways to take these passages, and both are easier than wrestling with God and doing whatever we do to his glory. Neither are a good idea.

Western culture has swung to the second extreme. Young women are told to break out of religious bondage and realize all of the potential they have and not submit to the drudgery of the classic female occupation. But if we are truly hobbled by our faith, how does Christ’s promise in John 8:36 fit in?

“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

But by setting out these rules and guidelines for how we need to live together, God isn’t tying us up, like I used to think. Instead, by following His plan for us, even though it seems a mundane and worn out path, we are set free!

See, simple math shows that 4+4 = 8. So does 1+7. Both equations equal 8, but they use different numbers to get there. The equations are equal (4+4=1+7), but both sides are different.

I was reading a feminist book recently. It was just lying there and I picked it up. Women have been seen historically (and even presently) as work animals for the home, and the feminist movement did a good thing in trying to raise expectations for women. But the movement has unwittingly undermined God’s calling on men and has left something lacking for women.

Notice that in the math example above, I didn’t just use 3+5 = 5+3. Both still equal 8. But if I had done that, both sides of the equation are not only equal but also the same.

That is what the feminist movement has done. The message of feminism is that women can do everything men can do, but differently (or in the extreme, better). We are just a rearrangement of men; we are equal to them, and the same as them.

That doesn’t sound very threatening. But imagine for a moment if the world was full of you – yes, seven billion yous. Is that a pleasant thought? Would you get much done? That is what being equal and the same ends up looking like.

I believe this is why some men feel extremely threatened by feminism, and why others retreat into their corner and allow women to take their place. God made men to rise up in the strength he has given them to love, cherish, look after, and protect girls and women, and by declaring we can do it ourselves, we have essentially taken away their job and their basic calling from God. Being equal is a good thing – being the same is not.

On the other hand, God created women to love, support, help, and encourage the men in our lives. When men are pushed aside and demeaned, we no longer have something to support, but something to drag along behind ourselves.

If we listen to our Master, the author and perfecter of our faith, and do the things he sets before us, what we as young men and young women of God do does not really matter. But doing them according to His ultimate plan does.

You object: But I am doing what is before me, and it is dreary. I must submit to everyone in my life, first my parents, and then my husband!

Or: Women have it easy. All they have to do is submit and help men, while we do all the heavy lifting. Why couldn’t I have it the easy way, too?

And Christ replies: What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.