The Naming

The Naming

Not just anyone can name you. Often times our first name is given by our parents. It seems only right that our mother and father who have brought us into the world should have the first right to place their seal and connect their authority through the use of name. Often the second people to rename us are the peers within our group. There is often a hint of teasing and jostling for position connected to these renamings within our American youth culture. In many native cultures renaming is connected to a coming of age ceremony, through which one learns or acknowledges their personal role within the society. It is usually connected to their personal giftings by the Great Spirit or the recognized deity within that culture. In the Bible there are stories of renaming that are usually connected to a change of situation, personality or character. When women marry often there is a change in name associated with the change in position in life.

My renaming was attempted by many. There were the kids who tried to tack their labels on me. Some stuck with pricks sharp enough to motivate change. This led to a struggle that wounded the fragile sense of image that I clung to, until the day the Lord began my renaming. I say, began because my renaming was a process that continues on today. First He un-named me. He tore away at all the labels and mis-conceptions that the enemy of our souls had tried, through various means, to adhere to my soul, destroying who God had created me to be. As He stripped back the layers of lies, He began to expose the truth, who I was in Him.
There were a few mentors that the Lord has brought into my life, to speak truth into my soul. This truth speaking drove back the lies and began to break through the hard exterior I had wrapped around my soul, protecting it from the barbs. Strange, how the self-protective methods we use, often keep us from what we need or really desire. One such mentor was Curtis Wright. One day up in Yosemite, among the grandeur of the tower pines, sequoias and maples, Curtis called me by name. Funny, how you can recognize your name, though you had never been called out by it before. From that day on, I have aspired to live up to that name. It is how this blog got its name, Dances with Horses.

Yet, ultimately my most important name is simple. It is found in a possessive pronoun. It would be unidentifiable admist the others who could claim it. Yet, when He calls me by this name all else fads away. Nothing else matters when I truly allow the truth of who I am to settle in to the crevices of my heart. Who am I? Simply, "His."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Often I am contacted when an owner or a rider is encountering a bump in the relationship with their horse. They bought a horse, things were going so well until... Now, they are not sure what they want to do. They have invested a bit of their heart and usually a bit of their wallet, and so are not quiet sure they are ready to part company with the dream horse that is slipping into a nightmare, yet they are overwhelmed and not sure what to do.

So today I thought I would touch on some practical things to build a relationship and move back toward camaraderie.

1. Throw the Agenda Away

We can be very goal oriented and sometimes it keeps us from being in the moment. The horse lives in the moment. As owners, riders and lovers of horses we need to learn to live and be in the moment with our horse. To do this we need to not spend our time with our horse trying to get to our destination but instead spend our time being in the moment with the horse.

2. Become a Student of the Horse

As I say this, let me also qualify the type of student you ought to attentive, observant student. You could spend all the best hours of your days observing horses and still have much to learn. The less in the moment you are, when you are with your horse, the more true this is. It is a good idea to watch the horse in its natural environment, in herds, with people, with good trainers and with bad. Learn to read horses. Invest in the mindset of a life long learner. Come to the horse as a student and not as an expert. Now, when I say this I am not suggesting that you let the horse walk all over you. In fact, in the beginning do your observation from afar. Learn to see how the handler influences the horse, the other horse influences the horse, the other creature influences the horse, the new environment influences the horse. Can you see it coming yet? Can you anticipate the response the horse is going to give before it happens?

Become a student of your horse in particular. In the beginning it is important to get to know your horse and learn to read his or her body language. Sometimes this is easiest to do by turning your horse loose in an enclosed space such as a round pen. You want the space to be small enough that your body language is easily felt without you having to do too much running around, but large enough that your horse doesn't feel trapped by your presence.

Sometimes we are not very aware of how our pressures are effecting the horse. The freedom and the space gives you an opportunity to see how your horse senses you. Do you get more of a response then you expected or less? Does your horse tend to ignore or over react? Does your horse tune you out and then blow everything out of proportion? Can you get the horse to move from your presence super easily? Can your body whisper or do you feel like you have to use close proximity to get a response? Do you get the response you intended to or another response entirely? Does your horse seem inquisitive and like it wants to know what you want, or is it trying to avoid?

In the beginning try not to judge the responses. Don't evaluate and say, the horse gave me the wrong response, a bad response. Instead try to be objective and pretend you are learning a new language. If you step toward the horse's nose from the center of your space and intend to slow the horse or get a down transition and the horse stops hard and spins away, try not to feel that the horse was disobedient, instead try to use less next time. See what happens if you just lean your upper body forward. What happens if you turn your shoulders more toward the horse? More away? Experiment. See the horse's response as feedback in how the horse perceived what you did. When I stepped toward the horse's nose it caused the horse to feel like responding that way. This is where the horse felt the open spot. Take this feedback and then evaluate. If the horse felt the opening was to turn around but I intended the horse to just slow, how can I make the horse feel like slowing without feeling like it can turn around? How can I close that door?

If you are getting lots of misunderstandings far away expect to have those misunderstandings more pronounced when up close. A horse that will step into your space and not stay away from you when free will probably not respect your bubble when you lead. A horse that over reacts to your body pressure at 15 feet will probably feel like its looking for the nearest exit up close. Use the distance to work through some of these issues and refine your communication skills. When you start to lead again read your horse and his or her response to your body's pressures. Try to evaluate and modify accordingly.

3. Work With the Horse that Shows Up

We all have those days where our usually sweet attentive mare shows up in a surlily mood. It is easy to get derailed in these moments. Instead breathe and be in the moment. Deal with what is. Don't allow expectations to ruin a learning, growing moment for you and your horse. Surely, you know what it is like to being having a bad day. Pretend your horse is a close friend. What does your friend need today? Sometimes we work through these moods and can find a willing horse with a little expenditure of excess energy. Sometimes what the horse needs is some bonding and loving on.

 If your usually calm and sedate horse comes out of the barn on two legs, try not to throw in the towel. It might be a perfect day for ground work in a nice large space where you can shape the arena or space. You can safely burn the extra energy and help the horse reconnect with you and then work on more refined control. Sometimes these high days end up showing us a very responsive highly in-tune creature we didn't know we had. When you have forward it is much easier to direct the horse then when the horse is leaning into pressures and resistant to moving.

4. Know What you Intend

There are times when we just kind of float along with our horse. We are not very clear in our directions and so we get unclear responses. If you don't have a clear expectation of the response you are anticipating it is going to be much more difficult to release the pressure when you get the correct response. The biggest quickest reward for the horse is going to be the release of pressure from the request, when you get the correct response. It also makes it much easier for you to suddenly realize that you are not where you intended to be. Take for instance leading a horse from the barn to the arena, if you are not being definite in your direction of travel and are not staying in the moment, you may be half way there before you realize that you are off course and actually now headed to the lush grass where you sometimes take your horse to graze. It is easy for our lack of attentiveness and leadership to throw our horse into the leader role. The horse may not even be pushing his or her way into this role...rather she or he could just be filling a vacuum created by our lack of clarity, direction and initiative. When you make a request, have an idea of what you expect and know whether or not you got it. If you didn't, then re-evaluate the request and the response, then rephrase. The quicker you respond and correct the misunderstanding the easier it is for your horse to know what the expectations are and whether they are on the right page. Inconsistency creates frustration.

So before you throw in the towel spend some time just working on the relationship. Spend attentive, in the moment time learning from your horse and growing with them. Even if you decide this horse isn't for you, you will have had a chance to learn and grow with the horse in the time you had.

I have never wasted any time I spent bonding with horses, listening to horses and growing in my level of attentiveness and awareness to what makes them tick, react and want to work with me in cooperation. Respect goes a long way, in any relationship.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spirituality and Horses

There have been times when God's voice has been clear, though not audible.

I have found that God comes to me where I am and seeks me out. He stoops low, so that I don't miss His whisper and bends down so I can see the love in His eyes. This is my experience with the Almighty.

This is not to say, that I have found God tame and mild. Far from it. I have found Him to be wild and unruly, a God of Fire and Storm.  Yet, I have found Him to be gentle and kind, so as not to lose my timid heart. Yet still He will not be boxed.

God has, so often, gently stooped down. Perhaps that is what He was doing, in part, when He wrote in the dirt before the woman caught in adultery. There was no way she could bring herself to look up at Him, to look into the Lord of glory's eyes, so He stooped low.

God speaks to me through animals, waterfalls, wind through the leaves, poetry and song. There are the verses that come to mind out of thin air, as the Spirit whispers them, imperceptibly in my ear. God has tracked me to the place of the gift He gave. It has been a gift that my enemy wanted to use to sell out my soul. The magnificent horse, so easily made an idol, or a revealer of the Lover of my life.  The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows His handiwork. Through the gift He teaches me about Himself and about myself.

In every experience and interaction with nature we have an opportunity to see our Lord more fully unveiled.

In every experience in life God interacts to pull our eyes from the earthly realm to the heavenly, from the physical into the spiritual, from the transient to the eternal.

Sometimes we separate out our life into small compartmentalized segments. We have our spiritual side and the space where we participate in spiritual activities and then there is our secular life. There is our occupation and the energy that is put into work. We try to keep these pieces separate and tidy.

Life is not tidy.

Spirituality is not tidy.

So spirituality reaches over into the fabric of my everyday world. God speaks into the messiness of my experience with relationships, with occupation and with horses. The daily duties reveal the truth of who He is and of my level of trust or lack thereof.

I find my mind drawn to the parallels between the interactions between the horse and the rider/handler and the interactions between the individual and the divine. In these parallels I find truths I had not grasped before.

As we work with our horses we test our relationship with them. We ask them to trust us to go into scary  places. We ask them to stay with us and to over ride instinct and to trust us to look out for their greater good. Their response shows us more about the level of trust they have invested in us then just whether or not the training is confirmed. In our walk with the Lord, He is allowing experiences that will test our relationship. He does this to reveal our relationship's state to us. He already knows.

Which is easier to control, the body or the mind? Which is easier to constrain the outward action or the heart? There are times in my experience with horses where I have missed the point. I thought training was about observed behavior. As time has passed, I have learned more and more, if you want to shape the feet, capture the mind. This truth has made much sense out of the daily living of my spiritual life, lived out in the physical world. I have, unfortunately, damaged, in a moment of passion, relationships that have taken years to build. I have also damaged trust I had taken months to build with a horse, all because I lost sight of the body following the mind and emotion not the other way around. My true need is a heart change. With a heart change the actions and life follow. When I fixate on a behavior and lose sight of the vital relationship I forget that the circle of correct response widens and enlarges as trust deepens.

You want to control the feet?

Win the heart!

When a horse willingly submits to you and makes you leader they trust you. When the habit of their experience with you is camaraderie and mutual respect, they get in the habit of saying yes and working with you. You won't have begrudging service but joy and freedom and beauty and love.

Outward unwilling obedience and slavish acquiescence is never beautiful.

Not in the arena.

Not in the Christian experience.

God is after your heart.

So what if you do the "right" behaviors, if they are motivated by selfishness and fear and not by love and joy?

So what if you get the "right" behaviors from your horse, if they are motivated by drudgery and fear and not by love and joy?

Drudgery won't win medals in the arena.

Slavish obedience from your horse will not impress your friends or clients.

Outward obedience does not impress God, and as lovers of the horse, outward obedience from our horses should not impress us. This is not the goal.

That being said I will touch on a balancing truth, wanton disregard for the handler or rider is not love and joy.

Love generates the desire to please and work with the object of love.

Love is other focused.

If God really has my heart, it is my deepest pleasure to bring Him joy, to serve Him and to obey Him. True love from the heart causes a change in the feet. The belief, the heart will lead the action and the life.

If I have my horse's heart and mind I will, eventually, have his or her body.

So why do I spend so much time writing about this concept? It is rather simple, after all.
I write because of my great need. I find myself at times forgetting this concept in my relationship with God or in my work with horses.

I will see some behavior acted out by a horse and rather than seeing the root, all I see and all I desire to work on is the branch. For all my pruning away at the branch the root remains to crop up again and again and again. Sometimes it crops up in the same place and same way and other times it comes up a few feet over, yet it remains. It is an exercise in futility.

Other times I see some sin in my life and I forget the lesson, out of the heart this comes. I begin to try, in my own power, to hack away at this sin, this outward manifestation. Yet for all my work I cannot fix the heart by hacking at the symptom, or worse still, I will think I have succeeded. Mercy! The behavior will seem in line and so my frame of reference will not see what God sees, "selfish, outward show." God in His mercy will time and again bring me to a test or trial that will pull back the curtain to reveal the heart. The question is will I recognize it?

The answer is the same for both problems, be it the horse or my life. The fix is in the relationship. I cannot change my heart. Jesus can. If I come to Him, spend time with Him, abide with Him,

I will be changed.

Jesus makes the sins fall off.

My heart as it is molded and melded begins to love what He loves and desire what He desires. Obedience begins to be the natural outworking of my own will, because my will has been swallowed up in His.

As I focus on seeing the horse behaviors as revelations of the state of the relationship I am freed up to fix it where the problem is. I do not have to fixate on control of the outward, rather I set myself to woo the inward. I might use a mix of horse psychology, or and understanding of physiology or even evaluate the clarity of the request, but I am free of the selfish need to dominate. I seek the horse's camaraderie and respect and by doing so can evaluate from a neutral state instead of from a desire to have power over the horse. After all submission can only be freely given and remain beautiful, never can it be forced. Anything slavish ceases to be beautiful.

I am choosing to chase after beauty and love and joy.

This is my commitment.