You’ve Got To Know Your Horse!
Articles From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

“I will turn their mourning into Joy, I will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”  (Jer. 31:13)

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men.”  (Col. 3:23)

“And it is of course trucks and automobiles and jet fuel – the hard facts of modernity – that have made both God and horses increasingly irrelevant to our culture.  What is lost is our respect and affection for – our connectedness to – our fellow creatures, as well as a divine admonition to care for them properly.”  (T. M. McNally)

Belle was brought to our acreage by a horse trader when she was five years old.  She is a chestnut colored, old fashioned, bull-dog type quarter horse mare, with huge muscles, big, broad haunches, and stands about 14.5 hands at the withers.  Her tail is long and full and, in the summertime, her coat shines like a brand new penny.  She reportedly was foaled in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, with a full name of “Sweet Southern Belle” (interestingly enough).  She has no registration papers, because the quarter horse breeding farm did not know which stallion was her sire. 

Belle was very overweight when she came to us.  She has a long scar on her right shoulder area, which we were told was caused by a cougar attack when she was just a young filly.  We were also told Belle and her dam had been in a bad situation for a time, and had been starved.  Very interestingly, an insurance salesman who had come to our place told me his grandfather had told him he had seen a group of horses in bad condition up where Belle would have come from.  The story sounded very much like the grandfather had indeed seen Belle when she was very young, and in need of rescuing.  Thank God, someone obviously did rescue those horses.

Well, I sure was a beginning rider initially, and I would get out there on Belle, and try to get her to move – walk out, etc.  That girl would hardly move – didn’t want to go.  I would beg and plead, and admonish, but never would hit her.  My lack of initial success was probably due to my inexperience.  It took several years before I could ride Belle with her responding well to my cues.   I took riding lessons.  I studied multiple books.  Of course, we took total care of Belle, so she had multiple thousands of experiences of different kinds with us – feeding, grooming, walking, tacking up, cleaning her stall, picking out her feet, brushing, stroking, hugging, kissing, talking, and whatever else, including, of course, manure cleanup and disposal.  Kindness and consideration were always practiced, but became much more skilled and effective as we got to know Belle better.

After a few years, I decided I wanted to teach Belle to pull a horse cart, which I did not know that much about doing.   So, I studied a good book and watched an instructional video.  To get her started, first I stood behind her and long-lined her.  She did that just fine.  Then, I put a travois-like apparatus behind her for her to learn to pull.  She did that just fine, too.  So, I thought, why not go ahead and put the used cart I had bought on her.  The harness wasn’t fancy, just an inexpensive cloth rig.  Well, to my surprise, Belle took off and pulled that cart, the first time, like a pro, and like she had been doing it all her life.  I was amazed (and still am).  The whole instructional period had taken less than one hour.  She is a natural!

After a few years, I wanted a better cart for Belle, and found the kind I wanted at the Bonner’s Ferry draft horse show, outside Sandpoint, Idaho.   I met Ron Dayton there, of Athol, Idaho, who hand makes carts.  I also met a lady there who hand makes harnesses.  They measured Belle all over her, and a wonderful cart and harness were made especially for her, with the appropriate dimensions, tongue weight, and all.  Belle loves her cart, and always wants to pull her cart.  She stands very still to be harnessed, and opens her mouth for the bit. She does an excellent job and is very precision in responding to line cues.  She taught herself to pivot the big cart – I did not teach her.  She figured it out for herself.  All I need to do is indicate that I want her to turn the cart around, and she starts crossing her legs over in front, negotiating a perfect turn around.  She can back the cart up also. 

Belle's Cart

Belle has given cart rides to many family members, to friends, and to children.  We have even put toddlers on her back for supervised rides.  She is very careful with all human people – no monkey business or unwanted movements.  She is always very careful of my safety, too.  Due to our having so many other things to do, Belle only pulls her cart maybe 8 or so times a season, and usually for about 20 minutes at a time.  Because traffic has increased on the road out front, she only drives it around our bigger than arena-sized back yard.  So, you can probably understand how special each cart occasion is for all concerned!!   Ron Dayton made us a fine, strong cart which is my most cherished possession.  (Oh!!  be back later! – time to go out back and put the cart on Belle on a beautiful day!)

Well, I’m back, and we had the usual great cart ride, and Belle did a wonderful, cooperative job, with a great attitude, for which she gets treats, hugs, and verbal appreciations.  Her pal, Sunny, is walked around out there by my son as Belle is doing the cart, which she likes.  (Horses like to do fun stuff, too.)

Belle and Sunny (half Arab palomino gelding) have as varied a horse program as we can manage on our three acres, which are actually within Spokane city limits.  What was a country atmosphere is now filling in relentlessly with new homes, really limiting the different places we can ride or walk the horses around here.  They are ridden all possible on our property, they are free lunged and line lunged, walked in hand, taken over small jumps to exercise their hind quarters, and taken through a series of stretching and skill exercises in hand.  Especially during the winter, we walk them in hand down the roads.  It is very rare that Belle and Sunny are NOT worked with every day, exercised, and socialized with, due to the weather being just too stormy.  We do all we can for and with them, because they mean the world to us.  Every summer I manage to get them to Riverside State Park or Pine River Park for outings, which they love (and I love also). 

When Belle first came to live with us 18 years ago, she was not mean, but she sure was uncooperative, and she was wary and scared of being ridden even a few hundred feet from “the barn.”  She would balk and, if she moved, it would be right back to “the fence,” which was her security spot.  She was a young girl with a caring, highly motivated, but ignorant “mama” (me).    

The main point I am trying to express here is that, throughout these years of horse-human family life with Belle, transformation has occurred, usually so slowly and silently that change was not noticeable.  Gradually, Belle learned to trust me at a deep level, and to respond to me in smooth, interactional synchrony.  Slowly, I noticed and understood more and more of Belle’s communications, though subtle.  I now am extremely more aware of her likes and dislikes, and of how smart she really is.  That girl knows what is going on!  She works WITH ME.  For example, when I bring in a flake of hay to her feeding trough, and she is standing in my way, which is customary in winter, I say “Belle, back!”  So, she backs out of the way, realizing exactly what I want and need at that moment.  I feel like I can count on Belle’s faithfulness and good will more than I can most humans’!  I believe I should add that I work WITH HER, also.  I respect her honest horse likes and dislikes.  I want her to be content and happy!  I “listen” to her.

Knowing Belle enriches my life incredibly, along with the other horses we have had.  In the midst of the repetitiveness and oftentimes boring drudgery of our lifestyles, horses can seemingly miraculously lift us up.  Riding makes me glad to be alive, in a way that I can really and spontaneously feel.  I feel energized and hopeful.  Negative life concerns seem less potent and further removed.  What I look forward to is getting back up on that horse!!  All the fancy, materialistic, ritzy stuff in today’s culture has no fascination for me, because “the horse” has helped me to become what I believe is a better person.  I am much more patient.  Belle has taught me what is really the most important.  She has also taught me to never give up striving to provide the best well-being I can to everyone, the nine of us who live here, as well as anyone anywhere, human animal or animal animal!! 

“Love has the power to transform us, people and horses alike.  It sees our true potential and encourages us to live up to it.  If we’re hiding behind masks of insecurity, fear, or pain, it helps us to gain the courage we need to remove those masks.  Then, we can risk change.

On our own, trying to break destructive habits and forge new, constructive ones can feel like an overwhelming task.  But, when those who love us commit to walk beside us, they help us get back up on our feet when we fall.  If we are ready to give up, they remind us that failure is only a momentary setback.  They help us see ourselves as God does, as creations worthy of love whose lives are filled with possibility and purpose.”  (Kuyper, p. 8-9).  Belle walks beside and with me.

There are many people whose experiences with horses have led them to deeply sense and believe that horses live in this earthly world, AND also in the Kingdom of Heaven, all at the same time.  I believe that to be utterly true.  There is a spiritual dimension and awareness to horses, that can be sensed by us.  So, our role is to treat them with all the care and love in our hearts, and be deeply grateful when they can share this life with us.  Through horses, we can better know ultimate reality and God.  We can be more whole.


Copyright 2016 The Caring Heart – Dr. Joyce


Kuyper, Vicki J, Strong Spirit, Inspiring Tales: Lessons We Learn From Horses We Love.  Product Concept Mfg. Inc. (Colorado Springs, Co. 2014). 

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