Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What kind of training prospect am I?

Of course, the next step from thinking about God as a Trainer, is thinking about myself as the Trainee. Again, comparing humans to horses, you could compare yourself to a wild horse, a green horse (just barely started) a young horse in training, a horse that is coming along nicely, a show horse, or a schoolmaster. One thing that is important, is to realize that even the finished old schoolmaster horse, the one that can teach young riders so much and so well, is never "perfect." They still have bad days, or feel tired, or just don't feel like working at the moment. The difference between them and the green horse is that the schoolmaster has a long history of a trusting relationship, many years of painstaking care put into it and its development, and a lot of thought over the years has been devoted to how best to strengthen, challenge, rest, tweak, excite, and reward, the schoolmaster. The green horse has only a tiny bit of training, and is just starting to realize that it is going to keep on learning new things and being asked for different efforts. The green horse is not even sure yet whether the Trainer is worth trusting or obeying.

Horses have different personality types also, similar to humans. In training, there are 2 chief ways in which a horse will resist the process of training, depending on its personality and the situation. It can either resist openly (leaning on the bit or the leg aids, kicking, bucking, rearing, biting, are some examples) or it can suck back, (i.e. dropping behind the bit so as not to contact it, being over-reactive to the leg, staying far behind when leading, etc.) It is usually easier to see the open defiance and fix it, but the sucking back type of resistance is much more subtle and tends to cause all sorts of performance problems. I have noticed this in humans too - open aggression/rebellion can be a lot easier to deal with, simply because it is so hard to ignore its presence, whereas passive aggression/quiet resistance is often not even noticed by the person harboring it. It is hard to fix if you can't see it.

One thing I like about horses though, and where they are different from humans, is they are so much easier to deal with overall! Of course training a horse is a lot of work, and excellence is something to pursue your whole life, but horses are much easier to train than humans! People are a lot more complicated, but the same basic principles do apply to how we are to treat humans. Then it is the human's choice how they will respond...

Whereas horses will usually respond very well to truly good trainers. Horses (and dogs, and many other animals) are extremely good at reading people. They know right away if you are pretending, even to yourself. They need transparency, kindness, absolute consistency, and an appropriate amount of emotion. I suppose one reason why I and so many other millions of people love animals and need them in our lives is because of how they inspire us to adjust and be more real, so as not to "betray" their willingness to try for us. And it is betrayal of a sort when we require them to perform for us while giving conflicting signals or, for example, trying to love on a horse when you are really mad at it (or someone else) - that will not make it feel good - the horse will see right through the facade and get insecure and nervous.

There have been times when I was really depressed or upset about something and I went to play with Mira (or other horses, or dogs I have trained) and tried my best to be "up" for the animal. I have found repeatedly that the only thing I should do is be open - grimace at something not alive, stomp your foot, cry, or whatever, and get it over with quickly. Then I just work on entering into the animal's world. Animals are so good at empathy, and usually after a couple seconds, when I am able to focus on the animal, just feeling their empathy and presence makes me feel MUCH better. And this way the animals don't seem to stress at all. They just accept what I am feeling at that second. But trying to "jump in" without having recognized the emotions I'm feeling has never worked.

The cool thing is that God is perfect, so He always knows how to relate to us, and He is always honest. We might not hear Him, but if you ask He will be very transparent... which is a somewhat scary thought, but He is love, and that is what will shine through, even when He has to use tough love!

There are so many aspects to good animal training as related to God, and the same principles also work perfectly when switched over to children. How many parallels can you come up with?

Oh, and right now my image of myself if I were a horse, is a youngster who wants to learn but is still just a bit afraid of the Trainer. I have a tendency to try to be perfect so as to avoid any necessity for even the most gentle correction - in other words, I tend to be behind-the-vertical , tense, and thus lack rhythm & proper alignment, not to mention a steady connection/communication. As God works on me, our relationship will get less like shortwave radio and more like a telephone. :-P

When a horse relaxes and starts to really trust in the Trainer is when they start really achieving the goals of training, and they get closer and closer to the high levels of performance which will make them so dynamic. And, I do want that! I used to fret about how I was not doing enough to be close to the Trainer, (and sometimes still do!) but more and more I am reminded that it is His responsibility to do the Training. All I need to do is trust, like, relax, and obey the Trainer. That adds up to loving Him.

I hope someone has enjoyed this last couple of articles. I do not usually want to overwhelm my readers with long-winded articles, so I hope to post more fun pictures and videos for y'all soon. But I wanted to share some of what I keep learning more and more about lately. If anyone wants chapter-and-verse references, or clarification of my clear-as-mud writing, feel free to let me know! And if you have more thoughts on this topic, I'd love to hear them!


Saturday, August 25, 2007

What kind of trainer is God?

I grew up hearing about God my whole life. I knew He is a loving God, and He wants the best for us, which is why I should obey Him. I knew in my head that He gave us rules in order to protect us - we don't have bad things happen to us when we sin because He wants to punish us, but rather, He tries to keep bad things from happening by warning us ahead of time what to avoid.

Like most preacher/missionary kids, though, I have sometimes gotten tired of the constant focus on God, holiness, and all that goes with the lifestyle. I've heard this fatigue referred to as growing up with a "dose of religion," and being "innoculated" against religion from that, so that you never actually "catch Christianity." I just call it "taking one of life's biggest blessings for granted." Humans are good at that! ;-)

Fortunately, I've never gone and outright rebelled against my upbringing in obvious ways, but I have struggled a lot over the years with letting God direct my dreams vs. planning my own life. The last few years have seen a lot of growth in that area, and part of that has actually come from having Mira! It's a long story, but basically the timing and the way I found her showed me that God really doesn't want to be mean and deprive me of blessings, and that He actually made me to need horses, He knows He made me to need them, and He has a lot of fun arranging the way my dreams in that area happen. I have begun to have a lot more trust about that aspect of His character, dream-giver AND dream-fulfiller, lately.

I still have no guarantees about how my dreams will turn out, though. That is the tough part about trust. I bet a lot of times things will take longer than I want, or will look different than I want. What I am starting to realize, though, is that He really does WANT to wow, amaze, impress, and delight me with how He can make things turn out even better than I would have been able to arrange!

This process has made me think a lot about God's character as the Good Shepherd, and what shepherds are like as they live with their sheep. It has also made me think about how He designed horses to communicate, and what makes them tick. I used to try to almost "shepherd myself" in my Christian life. I thought it was my responsibility to do all these things to make myself grow as a Christian. I have realized though, that that is not Biblical. I will not go into the references right now, partly because the proof is all through the Bible. God talks constantly about how He wants us to rest in Him, cast our cares on Him, come to Him for rest, follow Him like sheep, etc. etc. He wants us to trust in Him and be willing to work at what He tells us to, when He tells us to. We are not supposed to try and figure out what we need to work on next week, or what program of self-improvement we should figure out. Just listen to Him for the next step.


Very simple, very hard, very satisfying, much more art than science, if you know what I mean, and very much what we were made for!

Then I started thinking about the similarities between the way He wants us to relate to Him, and the way I want my horse to relate to Him. WOW. Immediate brainstorm! This has revolutionized so many of my ingrained attitudes and expectations the last couple years - it has been so cool! When training my horse, I never expect the horse to be worrying about how it should be doing better at this, or working harder to improve its flexion or how it needs to do better at not sleeping in the cross-ties, etc. etc. ALL I want from my horse is for it to respond willingly to my requests, commands, & cues. If the horse is willing, we can solve all sorts of problems as they crop up, and if the horse is willing, it will eventually look like a beautiful dance to watchers! I am the one to decide that we are going to work on picking up feet nicely, or that Mira needs work on desensitizing to plastic bags, or that a dull horse needs to learn not to be so lazy, or that we need to practice lead changes or backing up. A horse is not capable of training itself to become a Grand Prix dressage horse, a Three Day Event horse, a Reining horse, or any of the other multitude of things they can do. A foal cannot conceive of the things it will be asked to do later, but if it is trained by a good trainer, it will gradually learn how to do all those amazing things, and all that it ever needs to think about about is cooperating with the Trainer!

And you know, if you look at the Bible, it seems like one of the marks of God working in someone's life is how they accomplish the impossible, things they never could have dreamed of, simply by following Him! They are not told the goal ahead of time, and they are usually not told many of the reasons, but now, looking back, we can see what God, the perfect Trainer, did in their lives through their willingness just to walk (or trot & canter? ;-D) step by step with Him.

I hope this excites you at least half as much as it did me when I started to finally get this!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

These summer days

What a quick summer this has been. I am quite glad we only had 1 week of 115 degree weather, and by comparison the rest has been pretty bearable. So much has happened, but I am finally recovering from the "dizziness induced by all the business" ;-D

Mira is getting fat and sassy. I have to say, I have not been able to ride her for over a month, as her arthritis really seemed to be bothering her. Whenever anyone would get on, (no matter how light) she would be mostly fine on the small flat area we have for warming up, but as soon as we got out on the hilly road she was obviously uncomfortable. I actually spent several weeks trying to adjust and modify tack, the routine, time of day, etc., before I realized that she really just wasn't feeling quite up to it. I am not going to say she is permanently retired, because it's always possible that with winter she might get really frisky again and be fine with being ridden, (who knows?) but I doubt it...

It is kind of weird, because I actually have not had a hard time adjusting to this, and I thought I would be much more upset. I am just glad we got several extra months, after thinking she was retired this spring. I'll just keep taking her for walks and doing fun stuff as I get time, and do my best to keep her from getting too pudgy! I suppose it also helps me not to freak out since I know this is a more natural thing, and NOT something caused by me, and NOT an accident. Every time I groom her she enjoys it, but I can never seem to get a pain/stiffness reaction when I gently probe her back or other spots. She is totally happy in the pasture, with just the slightest occasional shortening of stride on the left hind, and undoubtedly she likes having her only job being the arduous one of "Spoiled Pasture Ornament."

On another note, Mira still prances with her gorgeous floating trot every time she gets to go past other horse pastures. So I liked these 2 videos about a Polish Arab stallion named Piaff. MiKael probably recognizes the name... and from what I've seen of your horses in pictures, I bet they look like this when they're showing off, MiKael! Talk about gorgeous... drool! :-D



Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Howdy y'all, this is a quick note to let you know I'm still breathing! I have been SOOO swamped the last 2 weeks, but I have had lots of ideas for posts, and I hope to get started putting them up tomorrow. I just had to wait until I could grab enough time to actually sit down and think for a while, thus the silence here...

I hope everyone else is doing well. :-) I better go check all my favorite blogs now - see you soon!


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Photos from last week

She looks a bit grumpy because she was smelling the treats and didn't want to wait any longer! Greedy girl...


(P.S. Please let me know if the pictures come out wrong on your browser - I have trouble getting the picture formatting to work right)

Mira's History, Part 3

The following story has been pieced together from a couple of sources. It so happens that a good friend of mine, who I met just before getting Mira, actually lived on the same road where I bought Mira! I did not know about that connection initially, and neither did she. I shared lots of stories and pictures though, and bragged about Mira to her :-) As well as to everyone else who would listen!

One of those days, we finally connected the dots, and that is when I found out more about Mira's history. You can bet we were excited to realize the connection - she to realize that "The Spoiled One" was actually the horse the whole road had been worrying about, and me to know more about Mira's past!

A couple of years before, Mira had been given to a certain person who turned out to be not really competent to care for a horse. The situation Mira ended up in was that of living in a small pen with one other horse, apparently without shelter. They had no regular grooming, no attention save for when they were fed, and I doubt they got any medical/farrier care. She was fed moldy hay at irregular intervals, and got skinnier and skinnier. My friend remembers that the whole neighborhood was upset about this, and hoping something would be done.

Fortunately for Mira, the vet I bought her from lived on that same road. She had to drive past every day and see what was happening, and she kept bugging the owner about taking better care of their horses. It seems like this situation did not last for more than a few months, but that was still long enough for Mira to get very skinny and weak. She started lying down most of the time, and this was probably the same time that she lost most of her teeth.

Eventually, the vet managed to get the people to surrender Mira to her (Yay vet!) and she began the process of rehabbing Mira. Once Mira was healthy, they realized she was still eager for a job, but they didn't have time to ride her much. They put an ad in the paper, and about a year after she was first rescued, I showed up in the picture. :-D

I feel privileged to be able to help make Mira forget that bad period in her life, and I hope she will be around for quite a few more years! One good thing about her life history, most of which I will never know, is that I can tell she was never hit or abused physically. I can also tell that whoever started her when she was a youngster did a good job, and gave her a lot of good first experiences. So it seems to me that most likely that one time in her life is the only really bad time she has gone through. She loves people, and gets mad if people come over and leave without visiting her! She shows off for the horses that live near us, and I doubt she knows she's an old horse! Hopefully, she will continue to NOT feel her age... :-)


Monday, August 6, 2007

Better Questions CD: A Review

I got a new CD the other day. :-) I always like getting new music, and I was especially excited because it is by my favorite musician. Better Questions is about the questions we all have about life and the big issues. I knew I'd like it when Todd Agnew said he was NOT going to try to answer all the questions he was asking, as some questions are too big for the "90 second cure." My words, not his.

I had a hard time trying to decide which lyrics to type out here; they are all good for different reasons. I finally decided to go with today's favorite song - this is just the first verse:

If you wanted me

I'll admit I'm glad we're not disciples
out on a lake paralyzed with fright,
'cause I'm afraid I might have laughed at Peter,
until he stepped into that stormy night.

If You wanted me to walk on water,
why'd You make the solid ground seem so right?

There are several more verses after this. The song ends with, If You wanted me to be like You, why'd You make me like me? The words of this song remind me of that joke, "Hey, I resemble that remark!" Because I do complain more often than I like to admit about how hard it is to try to be like Jesus, and ask why it isn't easier to do so...

Well, gotta go now. I hope everyone is having a good day!


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mira's History, Part 2

Last time, I left off at where I was just about to get on Mira for the first time.

This picture to the left is one of my favorite photos of her, although it is small and has some glare. This was taken the day I went to look at her :-D

It had been a few months since I had last been able to ride, and considering her behavior earlier I was wondering just a little about how frisky she might decide to act. I asked the vet if she would longe her for a bit first, which she did, and I watched. I remember that Mira was energetic and wanted to go, but was not hyper.

After a couple minutes, I went ahead and got on!

The first thing I noticed was that she was calm and even more responsive under saddle. I believe the only horse I've ridden that was more responsive (not reactive, but responsive) was a reining Quarter Horse, a performance gelding who was by Reminic and trained by one of the top trainers. He was a blast to ride, by the way!

Anyway, I rode Mira in each gait, and both her trot and her lope were sooo comfortable. I liked everything about the way she felt, and I didn't want to get off! It was a hot day though, so when she started sweating a little I got off and went and found a hose to wash her off with. Then I put her away, reluctantly said goodbye, and went up to find her owner, the vet.

We chatted for a little bit and I said that I really liked her and would go home and think it over and let her know ASAP the next day if I decided to get her. Then, floating on air, I drove home!

As soon as I got home, I told my mom all about her (I still live near my family) and said something like, "I truly think that she would be perfect!" My mom replied, "Well, why don't you go call the owner up right now and tell her, so nobody else grabs her?" I reminded her that I'd always said I would be careful NOT to buy a horse on the first day I saw it, and she said, "Well, you HAVE thought about her quite a bit, and she sounds like the one. You should call now so she doesn't get away."

So, I called the vet back, and for the first time in my life (but not the last!) said the words "I want to buy your horse."


The rest is history. I went over the next day and signed a contract and paid for her, and the day after that we brought her home! One blessing is that the vet did NOT sell her for the already low advertised price - she practically gave her to me!

The main feeling I remember about the process of buying her is feeling like it was surreal. I could not believe this dream was finally coming true. Wow...

It may not be the most exciting story to read, but that is how Mira and I found each other. And I didn't know it, but my coming into her life was a very good thing for Mira. The vet had rescued her from a very bad situation almost a year earlier, and had rehabbed her carefully, but did not really have any use for her. My wanting Mira was and is a good ending to a story that temporarily went bad when someone didn't care about an old gray mare. I will tell more about that story in the next installment...