My Horse, My Friend
Yesterday, during a break from doing yard work, I took my dapple gray Arabian for a long ride. Make that a long walk. The ground was too soggy to do anything else. So we departed from custom and did nothing but walk for an entire hour and a half.
A good walk is just as essential as a good trot or canter, is it not? Then why do we neglect it so?
One of the greatest challenges in riding is preserving the horse’s natural gaits, including the walk. In fact, in the 12 or so years I’ve been riding, I have learned that a good rider is the one who seeks always to preserve the horse’s natural movements.
Try this the next time you are near a horse. Observe how he walks, trots, and canters. Note how effortlessly he jumps. See the beauty, the harmony of his movements. That is the way we should ride our horses! When you ride, allow the horse his natural balance – his freedom, if you will. That is the meaning of dressage – or schooling, as we say in America. Just as humans are naturally balanced, so the horse’s body should function in a natural, balanced way. So the key to riding is allowing your horse to be himself, except, of course, that he has you on his back.
Do we give our horse the freedom to be what God made him to be? Do we see him as our slave or as our partner? Do we see our best friend in him? 2400 years ago, Xenophon put it this way: “Force will never produce anything beautiful.” He meant that we cannot use force with our horse if we want him to display his natural movements. Therefore we have to treat him like a friend. If you want to have an easy ride and enjoy yourself, respect your horse. Put him at ease. Avoid making him fight you. Give him his liberty. He must trust you, and then you can trust him.
It was hard for Cody to walk for four miles without breaking into a trot or a canter. Cody is an Arabian – an active, hot-blooded creature. It was hard on me as well. I too enjoy going fast. But there was no sense in exposing my horse to the risk of a torn ligament. We don’t treat a friend that way, and the horse is our friend. And what a friend he can be. My horses have never let me down. They have no treachery whatsoever, and they always return love with love.
The freedom of a Christian has nothing to do with riding a horse, but the same principles apply, do they not? We are free in Christ. But this freedom is never freedom to do what is wrong. It is freedom to be all that God has created us to be.
We are free, but free to do only what is right. The apostle Paul says that believers must “stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1). Paul meant that we are free from works-righteousness. We are accepted by God in the righteousness of Christ. Yes, obedience is required, but it is an enabled obedience. That’s the promise of God’s New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-14; cf. Heb. 8:8-12). Rather than writing His law on tablets of stone, God has written His law on our hearts and minds. And, because we know God personally, no longer do scribes have to teach the law to us. Obedience is now the result of an internal, intrinsic, God-given desire and enablement.
The result is that “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us, those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). The very Master who owns us is not ashamed to call us His “brothers” (Heb. 2:11-12) and even His “friends” (John 15:13-14). He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” A servant must blindly obey his master’s instructions without knowing the purpose or meaning of it; but a friend understands what is happening because friends develop mutual trust and love by communicating with each another.
And so it is with horses. Someone once said that all men riders are dictators. They dictate every step their horse should take. Well, I am not a dictator. My goal is to build up a mutual understanding with my horse so that he submits himself freely to me without a fight. And I exercise him frequently in order to enable him to carry out his different tasks with the greatest ease. By training him in this manner, I get the full benefit of his mental and physical potential.
Just another lesson from my wonderful horses.
September 10, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.