Horses are God's beautiful animals but are also scary at times!
I used to be a very brave rider, going over high cross-country jumps and stadium obstacles at one day events, and taking my horses on trail rides in hail storms.
That changed with one big, bad rear from my horse at a show where he dumped me and ran off. I had to buy two canes to hobble around with for days, and was in a lot of pain!
From then on I’ve been wary of how my gelding might react to whatever stimuli happen to be present, and as a result my riding world had become pretty much limited to being in indoor or outdoor arenas. No trail riding or cross-country training.
I used to laugh at people like that and had now become one of their number. It was humiliating, and had been going on for far too long.
Changing From Within
This year I was determined to change and bought two books: one on overcoming riding fears, Inside Your Ride by Tonya Johnston, and the other a generic sports psychology book, With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham.
I read them voraciously and made copious notes. Then I incorporated ideas from both volumes into a short list of self-affirming and mind-changing statements with which to indoctrinate myself daily, as suggested in both books.
A few days into my recitations of this statement, I realized with horror that a vital component was missing.
I had failed to include God in my deliberations. How could I call myself a practicing Catholic when I was excluding God from any of my activities, let alone one of those most important to me?
Horrified with myself, I rewrote a key line of my daily mantra into: “God is watching over me and I am a very good rider.”
As I looked at what I’d written, it occurred to me that I was asking God to help me be brave when riding, but it stopped there.
Shouldn’t I also be asking God to help me be a brave Catholic? In these secular days when it’s unfashionable to stand up for God’s natural laws, when we’re told that our religion is ‘out of touch’ with a modern world where gay marriage and abortion are absolutely fine and that disagreeing with this is ‘being intolerant,’ it takes a lot of courage to side with God in public.
I resolved then and there to ask God to give me courage on my horse so that it might spill over into the way I live my faith.
Today a Water Jump, Tomorrow the World!
Today I took my horse to a new venue where we’d mingle with a group of horses he’d never met, and a trainer, in order to tackle the water jump.
This is basically a shallow pond, with gentle slopes into it and wooden banks for jumping into the water from. My horse isn’t fit, so it would be enough for him to walk into the water.
At first he wouldn’t go, then the trainer told me to watch her friend whose horse stood in the water already. “Don’t look down into the water, look ahead at Jennifer,” she said. It reminds me of Christ asking Peter to look at Him and not at the water.
About five minutes later my horse jumped into the water. I was ecstatic, and my equine buddy was also pleased with himself. In no time at all he was happily trotting into the water and cantering boldly through it!
Through the trainer God gave me the right encouragement to be brave with my horse and not worry about him leaping to the side or bucking or lunging into the water and throwing me off. I had asked God to help me before I got on my horse, and he gave me faith in my trainer. The result – success!
Recently while beginning to ride my horse again this year, I’ve been wearing a bracelet with a cross on it. I relied on it as some kind of lucky charm. Why, I don’t know, since I already wear a silver cross and the brown scapular.
Moments before I mounted my horse on this occasion, the bracelet broke. For a few seconds I panicked, and I had no pockets on me to carry it in.
Then it occurred to me: Satan wanted me to lose faith by breaking my bracelet but God was telling me to rely on Him, and not on some token made of steel and stone. (The golden calf comes to mind.)
I swung into the saddle without a second thought for the missing bracelet on my wrist.
Letting Horses Work for God’s Kingdom
I’ve been so lucky to have horses in my life that I often ask God if He’s O.K. with this. I very much hope that I correctly understand His answer!
Over the past two years I’ve discovered that the majority of my riding pals are practicing Catholics or active, believing Christians. Some are lapsed.
My job is to set a Christian example, together with my Catholic friends, and hopefully bring back those who have left the Church. I must monitor my own behavior at all times, and this is a good thing. It makes me strive to live the faith that I profess in order to save souls.
This includes being brave enough to acknowledge Christ and speak the truth. Even when people don't want to hear it, just as they didn't in His time.
He Doesn't Allow Me Too Much Riding Success!
I’ve got used to God keeping my feet on the ground by not allowing me to win too many blue ribbons!
I used to think this was God’s way of telling me to stop riding. But because of the abundance of Catholics who ride with me, and the good I hope to do with them, I now see this as God’s way of keeping me humble.
I’ve recently had some wonderful successes in my faith life, indirectly related to the horses, and it would be very easy for me to get complacent and pleased with myself, forgetting Who’s really in charge.
So God whacks me over the head at regular intervals with a lousy dressage score or a bad spook from my horse to keep me in line!
I’m so happy He’s making good things come out of my passion for horses, while keeping a firm grip on my ego!
He's having a well-earned rest.