Cooper the Grouch

Cooper swung his head back and forth as he approached his stall door, ears pinned flat against his neck and nostrils wrinkled back, showing a little bit of his teeth. His behaviour was directed at a young woman approaching his stall door, halter in hand. He had never seen her before, but that didn’t matter. He was impartial; he treated all humans the same. He didn’t have to be hurt a hundred times to realize that all humans were nasty creatures.

Now, no one had ever hurt him intentionally. He had broken a leg and was laid up, and continually had vets and handlers restraining him and poking him and fussing over him, and he had learned that whenever someone came near him, it was going to hurt, even though he was better now and ready to go back into work. Although they were labours of love, he couldn’t understand it, and he was so grouchy that his owners were afraid to touch him.

But this human did not seem to care. He snaked his head at her even harder, but she dismissively waved her hand at him and spoke calmly, reaching for the stall latch. He retreated a little, but his ears remained where they were.

As the girl held the halter up to put it on him, Cooper jerked his head hard away from her to avoid it—but somehow the halter was already over his nose! Surprised, his ears flicked as she laughed softly and buckled the headstall. She ran her hand down his neck, stopping briefly at his withers to give them a scratch. Cooper pinned his ears a little more again, glancing at her, but then relaxed them to their normal, rearward position.

“Well, that is an improvement,” the girl murmured to him. “You aren’t happy yet, but at least you are your normal self!” With another wither scratch, she directed him to move forward with her out of the stall.

Cooper’s memories of what always happened outside his stall came flooding back, and he baulked. His blanket would be put on in preparation for turnout, and the fleece always shocked him. His ears twitched further back. The girl remained looking straight forward.

“How can I tell you that it will be different this time?” she asked. “You have to trust me.”

Cooper was not about to trust anyone, but with one shuffle forward, all the pressure on his halter ceased. He turned his head and glanced at his leader again, one ear forward.

“That’s it. Walk on.” The words were not coaxing. It was a command. Cooper walked on.

“See, I’ve heard all about your story,” the girl continued talking as she tied Cooper to the outside of his stall. “Your old blanket is gone. It won’t hurt you any more—they got you a new one, and it will be just as warm for your short winter coat.” While she spoke, his new handler was removing the wood shavings from his coat and tail. Cooper’s ears followed her, a little more interested. With smooth movements and kind words, the blanket was soon on and buckled in place, and Cooper had his mouth full of breakfast.

This time, however, he was not taken back to his field. He baulked again when his handler turned left instead of right, but pressure, another command, and another clear release had him following the girl. They walked slowly to the arena, walked around its perimeter for twenty minutes, just the two of them side by side, and then he was taken to his paddock. Before letting him go, the girl bent down and felt each of his legs.

He objected at first, like he did to everything, and his neck reached around, teeth bared. But she just pushed his face away and ran her hand down his leg again—and again and again, until Cooper let out a great sigh, agreed that it did not hurt, and let her carry on. Finally satisfied that there was no heat in his legs, the girl set him free.

Weeks passed. The girl now sees very little of Cooper. Instead, his owners have started handling and riding him again. But now, he doesn’t greet them with wrinkled nostrils and teeth and pinned ears. He walks to the door with a soft fluttering nicker and calmly goes where he is asked. He learned to trust again.

Moral of the Story

Sometimes it seems like God hurts us on purpose, and somehow expects that we will just keep running to the source of our pain for help. But how can we really understand what God is doing? My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, declares the Lord. He is greater than we are. Being defensive and hardened can seem to lessen the pain for a time, but eventually it just makes life miserable.

The Horsegentler


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