We have in our home a sweet little “rescue dog.” The poor little thing spent the first five years of her life alone (or roaming with other dogs), surviving on an Indian Reservation in northern New Mexico. Life on “the Res” can be hard on a little lost or abandoned dog. When she was captured, the kennel staff named her “Frizz” (I wonder why?).
At first, she was a bit “on the wild side” and a little “testy” with her captors. However, they gave her shots, clipped her hair short with scissors, bathed her, clipped her nails, spayed her, inserted an identity chip under her skin, and gave her a new name: “Brunhilda” (or just “Hildy“). To this day, she still continues to be a little “testy” with strangers (especially men), but she’s usually okay with women, and she seems to love children. In addition, she loves our family and we love her dearly. Oh, and we gave her a new name, “Missy.” (The name was derived from my daughter Melissa’s name. Melissa was instrumental in picking me up from my despair after the sudden and traumatic death of my sweet little dog, Riley. She understood my pain and sorrow; so one day, Melissa came to me and said: “Dad, come with me. We’re going to find you a dog!” That was the day Melissa found our little Missy; and, “…rescued me” from sadness.)
Animals have always been an important part of my life. Mostly, I love my family and friends, but my love for animals is also high on my list. Yes, we have been granted “dominion over all animals,” but I believe we should always be respectful and kind to them.
I grew up with dogs and cats. They have shared my room and my life with me. My first dog was a little Chihuahua named “Peanut.” He was a fun and loving little companion. And each night, he’d crawl under my bed covers and slept down by my feet. My first memory of severe emotional grief came when I “lost” Peanut. Many years have gone by, and many pets have come and gone, but I still have their memories in my heart and mind. As near as I can recall, I can still count and name 31 animal pets (including seven amazing horses). As I said, I do love my family more than animals, but I have been known to say, “Generally, I like animals more than people!” Pets (dogs in particular) are loyal and love us unconditionally; they are always happy to see us; they’re quick to forgive our mistakes; and, they never hold a grudge. I believe my love of animals was inherited from my Mother. Mom also loved all animals, but like me, she mostly loved dogs and cats. Animals have made me happy, and they can take away the sadness. I love all my animal friends.
Over the years, horses have become an important part of my life. I’m sometimes not sure whether they belonged to me, or I to them. Regardless, my first encounter with these beautiful creatures (besides watching western movies at the Saturday afternoon Matinees Theater), came on Sunday afternoons after church. On our way home, Mom would often stop at the rodeo arena in South City to watch the weekend events. Then there were the trips to Half Moon Bay on Saturdays to ride the trail horses. I learned to love the smell of horses and leather saddles.
I have come to believe horses are a beautiful and divine gift from our God to us. We know horses have been a companion to man for many centuries …perhaps forever! Horses are an important part of our history. And, I am confident we will somehow continue to enjoy their companionships in the hereafter. They are strong, beautiful, loyal, trustworthy, and hardworking. And, they like to be with us! In addition, they make the land so much more beautiful just by slowly moving about and grazing. I have learned a great deal working with horses. Frankly, I believe we can all learn much from them. Positive characteristics such as loyal companionship, friendship, kindness, and love all come to mind. In return, all horses ask of us is kindness, gentleness, patience, and consistency (along with regular feeding, plenty of fresh drinking water, shelter from the elements, and regular exercise).
As with most animals, horses are instinctive creatures. They have fears about danger and self-preservation; so, they are always on the alert. Most animals can be divided into two broad categories: Prey or Predator. Horses are “prey” animals and are ready to bolt at the first sign of potential threat or danger. So, in working with these wonderful creatures, we must first gain and always retail their trust. They need to know who/what we are: friend or threat. Once they know and begin to trust us, we can begin developing our relationship (or companionship).
My horses never really liked it when the Ferrier arrived to trim and shoe their feet. As soon as he arrived, they would usually run to the back pasture and keep a constant eye on him from a distance. (I don’t think they liked the sound of his strange truck on our property, nor the clanging noises of his tools.) They would only come forward to the corrals if they knew I was there. When I called out to them, only then would they trot forward and enter the corrals to have their feet trimmed and shod. Once in the corrals, they were all very cooperative and freely gave the Ferrier their feet.
With horses, we must always remain calm and consistent: no wild behaviors, gestures, sudden movements, loud noises, or cruelty. And, as mention above, horses need a routine on which they can rely: regular feedings; ample freshwater; and plenty of exercise. In addition, they also need meaningful duties/tasks (a job); time allowed for free expression (turnout); and, a great deal of love, handling, and positive feedback. The goal is to be consistent, to gain and maintain their trust, and to bond with them: to become part of their herd. Over time, we will become their trusted friend; and, if we’re patient, they will show their love, friendship and loyalty to us. However, throughout the process, we must always be “patient and consistent” (predictable enough that they can “read” us). This is done by being consistently patient, kind and gentle, but firm. As noted horse trainer Buck Brannaman puts it: “Gentle in what you do, and firm in how you do it.”
A horse’s natural behavior is to “…just be a horse” …to graze, eat, walk, and drink (and run a little). Slowly walking about and grazing is important for the mind of a horse. It is their natural behavior (and perhaps their favorite behavior). In addition, if they’re properly cared for and feel safe and secure, horses will also provide companionship and service to us. Over the years, my horses and I developed mutually supportive friendships. These have been loving, fun and rewarding “give and take” relationships. Most recently, I had four of these beautiful animals in my little herd: Jake (the oldest), Josie, Blaze, and Beauty. Jake and Josie are both full-sized Registered Tri-Color Paints; Blaze is a tall, grade sorrel with a blaze marking; and, Beauty is a relatively small Black grade pony (POA): a kids’ horse. They were all very well trained and provided me hours of companionship, good work, and joy.
Lessons I learned from my Horses
In the Summers on our property, I usually turned the horses out at night to graze in the pasture. During a new moon, when the earth is in darkness, I loved walking out into the field and just standing there, taking in the peaceful majesty of the night. I also enjoyed looking into the Milky Way Galaxy above and viewing the inspiring canopy of stars in the night sky. Horses have excellent night vision, so they could see me …but I could not see them. They would always walk toward me and gather very carefully and gently around me in the field. It was inspiring when I heard and sensed those large animals approaching me out of the darkness to just stand next to me. They knew who I was, I was their friend (we were friends) and they trusted me. Those moments reminded me of a scriptural verse in the Book of Isaiah. When the Prophet wrote these words, many of the Israelites had turned away from their God, and Isaiah was lamenting: “The ox knoweth his master, …but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:3). Israel’s animals knew their masters (and loved them), but, as a people, Israel knew not (or had forgotten) their God, who is their Master. Today, just as in the days of Isaiah, it is essential that we know our God who loves us and provides for us (see John 17:3). This is an important lesson I learned from my work with horses.
Another lesson I learned from my horses was to “be prepared for and anticipate the morning light.” Our ranch was situated in a beautiful mountain valley where the winter mornings can be very cold. I usually fed the horses in the mornings before the sun came up and in the late afternoon just before dark. The winter nights can be long and cold for the animals, so in the early mornings, they would usually gather together on the west side of the pasture and patiently wait to catch the first bit of sunlight as it broke over the tops of the east mountains. As for myself, I also watched for the sun to rise above the eastern horizon …because I knew as soon as it did, “immediately,” and I literally mean “immediately,” I would feel the warmth of its radiance.
This is a great lesson and a “type” of the influence of the Gospel and the Savior in our lives. Those of us who may be struggling in darkness and/or despair (whether by ignorance or disobedience) can also feel the “immediate” love and influence of the gospel in our lives when we turn from inappropriate behavior and embrace Jesus Christ. He will “immediately” bless our lives with His love and the warmth of the gospel. We may not be made completely whole “immediately,” but we will feel his love and have hope “immediately” as the “great plan of redemption” is “brought about” in us! Pure and lasting joy will come as we learn more of Him, continue to follow Him, and embrace His Plan of Happiness.
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (Book of Mormon, Alma 34:31)
Working with horses (and dogs and cats) has taught me many lessons, and has made me a better and happier man.
For additional insight concerning our sacred and eternal relationship with animals, please see:
“Animals and the Afterlife,” by President Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS General Conference Address, October 1928; and,
“The Gospel and Animals,” by Gerald E. Jones, Ensign Magazine, August 1972.
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