Hair flying in the wind. Trees blurring past me. Breeze blowing in my ears, and I lean in to listen to it, like listening to the heartbeat of a seashell. Saddle rocking as the horse stretches out its long legs for another scoop of soil. Both horse and rider breathe from the same heart.
This time of horse-riding experience is like the day you got 10/10 on every quiz, or the baby didn’t cry all day, or you got free coffee at Starbucks because they messed up your order.
This summer I taught horse-riding lessons to children from ages eight to thirteen. Watching their expectations from the first lesson to the last was like watching sunrise to sunset. Don’t get me wrong; watching the sunrise of their naiveness is almost as beautiful as watching the sunset of their maturity.
One cute little eight-year-old girl fondled the horse like she would a newborn puppy. “I love Chili. She would never hurt a fly,” she said just as the horse assassinated a fly with her tail and swatted me in the face at the same time. Expectations versus reality.
However, there were more types of children than just the innocent and naive. I had children who had anxiety problems or were excessively confident, had never been taught to work or didn’t know a balance between gentle and hard, struggled with perfectionism or lack of self-discipline, or didn’t know how to be a leader or assert authority.
But horses are mirrors. If you are impatient, they are impatient. If you are angry, they are angry. If you are afraid, they are afraid.
I had one boy who had self-discipline issues. He came to me rolling his eyes and grunting replies. He’d never had a pet before. His mother told me the only pet the family had ever owned was a horse crab which had died because he didn’t feed it. When I told him to brush the horse, he swiped at the horse once and then stood back to look at his work. His hubris was going to be his downfall.
One day I nearly sent him home. He was trying to lead my horse by the reins around the arena, but my horse would not move. The horse was acting lazy. Imagine that? Lazy rider, lazy horse. A perfect pair. I told the boy to swat the horse with the end of the rope and then start walking with him. The boy reared back and whipped the horse with the rope.
I walked over, more calm than I felt, and I told him if he did that one more time he would never ride my horse again. His response was to roll his eyes.
I told his mom that if his behavior did not improve in the next training, I was going to have to discontinue the lessons. She pleaded with me to keep trying because he acted better at home after lessons.
We continued lessons. Every day the boy would not listen to me, and then the horse would not listen to the boy. The boy would walk lazily around the pasture in his mud boots, and the horse would walk around lazily in his hard hooves.
I could see my horse mirroring the boy, but the boy could not see the mirror. Though the boy looked into the same glassy brown eyes reflecting himself, only I could see his hubris stuck to him like the halter latched to the horse’s head.
Finally, the boy was frustrated with the horse.
“What did you learn from your horse today?” I asked.
“That he’s lazy.”
I paused. “What does that say about you?”
The boy looked at me in surprise and then back at the horse. “That I’m lazy.”
“What else did you learn?” I asked.
“He doesn’t listen to me.” He looked accusingly at the mirror standing on four legs in front of him like a full body mirror.
“And what does that say about you?”
“That I need to listen.” He shrugged.
“To who?” I smiled.
We had finally gotten somewhere.
There is almost nothing that you won’t change about yourself when you stare at your face in the mirror long enough. So, I say, keep looking into the mirror eyes of a horse.
"Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror; And, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." – James 1:23-24