What Horses Taught Me


When horses fight, the one that gets the other’s feet to move is dominant.

Growing up with several of the beautiful beasts, I had to learn this quickly. The farm where I worked as a stable hand (meaning you handle oats at both ends of digestion) was a training center for young, high-strung horses. If I didn’t boldly face every challenge they gave me, they would never respect me, and someone would get hurt. So I learned to face freaked-out horses head-on, calmly walking into the proximity of flailing hooves and bared teeth.

This habit almost got me into trouble the other night on Outreach.

Mary and I met David outside one of the bars. He was homeless and having a rough night, so we offered to take him to Subway, several blocks away.

Along the way, David started to relax. He stopped to tell a joke to a group of people standing outside The Annoyance Theatre after their improv class. By the time we sat down at Subway, he was opening up on a deep level. Mary and I were thanking God for turning this man’s night around.

Then things went haywire.

Eric also happened to be at Subway that night. Noticing that David was homeless, he assumed that he was taking advantage of Mary and me.

“You give people like us a bad rep!” he roared at David. A verbal altercation ensued. Voices rose until David hoisted a chair, threatening to beat Eric over the head with it. Mary sprinted out of the store with her phone, thinking she might need to call 911. I was left standing between the two men as they faced each other down.

“David, put the chair down!” I tried to make my voice firm and commanding, but neither man was listening to me. For a moment, I stood frozen, not sure what to do. Then it hit me.

Get his feet to move.

Making eye contact with David, I took a couple of small steps toward him. I was nervous about being so close to an angry man holding a chair over his head, but I did my best to keep the quaver out of my voice as I firmly said, “David, let’s go.” Without giving him a chance to respond, I turned and walked out of the restaurant. Once outside, I turned around. David was following me.

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. It had worked!

Except no, it hadn’t.

When horses fight, the one that gets the other’s feet to move is dominant. That means forcing the other to move by walking toward them. I had walked away. It wasn’t my dominance that had led him out of that conflict. It was God.

Ultimately, I am not in control, and whatever I “accomplish” is by his Spirit at work in and around me. Zechariah says it well:

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zecheriah 4:6).

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