by Peter van Gorder – from Alice Burdina, in Zambia
I always loved horses. When I was 4 years old I first rode an old draft horse when visiting our relatives in Sochi, Russia, a place that has a long legacy with the Cossacks and their love for horses. Ever since then, horses have been a big part of my life. Horse riding can be expensive. It can also be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, and even if you do, accidents can happen. I have broken ribs and had a few injuries from falls, but my love for horses overcame those challenges.
When I was young, my girlfriend and I used to volunteer to take care of the horses in a stable nearby. The stable boys neglected to feed them because they were always out drinking. Sometimes the horses were starving, without food for 3 days until they started eating their own manure. We saw what was happening and we stepped in to care and love them to bring them back to health.
In the horse world, people who ride all the time say that they have 50% human and 50% horse blood. For many it is more than a hobby, but a lifestyle. I seemed to have a natural love and relationship with horses. I started riding lessons when I was 15 and after the third lesson, my trainer could see that I could ride, she told me, “You don’t need me, you already know how to ride well.”
Through my experiences, I have come to believe that God made horses to show what human relationships should be like. Horses are like people in that they are social creatures, but unlike people they cannot put up fronts, be fake, or insincere. Horses know your intentions. It has to do with your body language. For example, if you hide the bridle behind your back, they see that your eyes are tense and sense that you are trying to trick them. Horses are not meant to be ridden so they would usually rather spend time with friends. They are more designed for carrying weight. When a rider gets on its back, it is difficult for them so they choose who can ride them. If you are relaxed, many horses will come up to you to cuddle and say hi. They love to get attention.
A strong bond can develop between horse and rider. Canadian champion rider Eric Lamaze had a horse named Hickstep. A few famous riders had owned him previously, and Eric was its 3rd rider. Other riders said, “There is nothing special in this horse.” But Eric saw something they didn’t. Eric and Hickstep became an inseparable team as they formed a strong bond and were unbeatable, winning almost every competition they entered. Their relationship proved that if a horse is loved, it will do almost anything for its rider.
Hickstep collapsed in the winner’s circle at its last competition, dying of a heart attack, after clearing a bar of 160 cm. Eric Lamaze said, “I was so fortunate to ride Hickstep. He was a horse of a lifetime, he was my soul mate.”
Just like people, there are all kinds of horses, each with their own personality. The way that they have been treated in the past determines in large part how they react to people. Horses have the intelligence of a 6 year old child and can be highly emotional. Mistreatment leaves a serious scar on them that sometimes requires much time to heal.
I have found that some owners are cruel to their horses by neglecting them, over riding them to make as much money as possible from riding lessons, and forcing them into confined spaces that are very traumatic for them.
Take the horse Freeway, an English thoroughbred for example. No one wanted to ride him because he was so skittish and tried to throw off whoever mounted him. Every time you rode him you didn’t know what to expect, but he was also a very good jumper – sometimes clearing 130 cm.
He was unpredictable and fearful because his former owners had abandoned him. When his new owner at the stable where I worked bought him, he was very skinny and had a problem with ulcers. He was also dealing with some mental issues. Freeway’s previous rider said, “This horse hates my guts.”
The first time I mounted him, he didn’t want to move. Freeway started bucking at every step and was uncontrollable. My main goal was for him to realize that as the rider, I wasn’t going to harm him. I did this by trying to get him to relax and release all his tensions. I used to spend a lot of time in the stable, giving him treats, and tenderly grooming him. I brought him into the lessons and he started getting very stressed and started behaving badly as he was remembering the bad experiences he had in the past. Slowly we started bringing him into the lessons. He realized the rider is not a threat. Training a horse is a team effort. It requires the cooperation of rider, horse, and trainer. The trainer observes and can see more than the rider sees. The rider carries out the commands, and the horse responds positively.
I read my book in his stable just to be with him. At first he ignored me, but eventually he would come and nudge me to say hi then turn and go about his business. As we spent more time together our bonds began to grow. I would put my head on his knees and he would hug me with his neck. He became more cuddly with me and we started jumping (Versace).
Just like people, horses need their love cup filled to perform well. When they feel neglected they get depressed. From the depression they get weak. If they feel loved they get over problems easier. Once you have made a bond and then break it, many horses get depressed.
I got very close to one horse. I told him that I had to leave, and I promised to come back, but the horse became so discouraged that in a few months he got very sick with Ulcers (Cushion’s Disease) and died.
I cared for another horse that was so wild that it took 4 people to hold him down and prevent him from hurting himself or someone else. I showed lots of patience and love to this horse and he eventually came to me on his own because he knew I understood him.
Those that have an extraordinary ability to communicate with horses are called ‘horse whisperers’. I knew one such lady who could read the thoughts of horses. There was a mare that was pregnant and about to give birth to a mare. She had colic and her condition was worsening. The horse whisperer talked to the horse and asked if the horse wanted to die or what the problem was? The horse communicated through a vision to her that she had eaten a certain weed which was making her sick. They found the weed and as they administered a cure and the horse recovered.
In another case, a mare that was very sick had just delivered a foal and they were going to put the horse down, but the horse communicated to the horse whisperer, to please wait until the foal was stronger and didn’t need her anymore. They waited and the mare died as soon as the foal was able to be by itself. The foal was taken in by a horse that was in a stable next to them and who loved it as her own.
One of the most exciting areas in this field that I have experienced and would like to develop more is equine therapy. At a stable that I worked at, we had kids from the orphanage coming once a week. There was one girl named Esther. She was about 13 but looked like she was 8-9 and she used to live in the streets and was abused by older teens.
A Zambian lady found her and ‘adopted’ her and named her Esther. Esther used to continually pinch or hurt herself in different ways, but after the second lesson, she hurt herself less and less until in a month she stopped all together. She had a hard time socializing with other people. When she saw me she me she gave me a big hug and thanked me for teaching her riding as she enjoyed it so much. Riding gave her new confidence.
A boy with a spinal problem had difficulty standing straight, yet he began sitting up straight in the saddle during his lessons. It was so rewarding to see these children smiling and playing games with the horses. Autistic children and those with Asperger’s Syndrome also benefitted tremendously from these lessons. One autistic child couldn’t stop yelling. Loud noises often scare horses and they usually flee loud noises but this horse understood this child and didn’t seem affected by it.
In one activity we organized, these children ran with their pony and tried to jump over a small obstacle. Sometimes the child fell and the horse would wait on the other side for them to get up. Horse and child developed a deep connection as they were having so much fun together.
It was amazing to see the kids from rich families and the orphans mixing and getting dirty together on our designated Fun Day. Everyone went down to the river and we used a gym ball to toss around and have fun together.
I am so thankful that God gave us the gift of horses. They teach us about what really matters in our lives. They can feel compassion or be mean if they don’t like someone – they are not insincere or try to hide their feelings or pretend to be something they are not. They can be very patient and have all the best qualities that you wish people would have.
Like the birds that don’t reap and sow, yet are taken care of by their Heavenly Father, so are horses. They are unselfish and don’t care if they are wearing a fancy bridle or no bridle at all. They value love and friendship. Sometimes we live too much in the material world. Horses can remind us to come back to our roots and be more spiritually minded by showing more love and kindness.
Verses on Horses:
Have you given the horse strength and clothed its neck with thunder? – Job
Isa_63:13 That led them through the deep, as an
horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
Zec 14:20 In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD;
The 4 horsemen, horses of the Battle of Armaggedon.
Rev 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
Rev 19:13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
Rev 19:14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.