Everyone is wonderful some of the time. Few people are delightful all the time. Authentic character is expressed in hard times, not days of leisure. It’s easy to be kind and agreeable when circumstances are kind and agreeable. If you’re a student of Christian character, horses make marvelous instructors.
When in doubt about genuine or feigned character traits, just apply the thumb screws to reveal one’s true nature. Tribulation tears away the shroud of pretense. You are who you really are in tight spots when you’re stressed to the max, surviving on reflexes, making decisions without considering the pros and cons.
Gray horses played pivotal roles in my education. You can read about my Bo and Swizzle, the amazing grays, in my books. Today I’m introducing you to my first gray horse, a Colorado Ranger-bred Appaloosa named Prince Asaad. Three things stood out at our first meeting, he was gray, wasn’t dangerous, and had a shampoo-commercial-quality long, soft, mane and tail.
The most profitable side of my horse business in the early days was buying horses with potential at a discount, maximizing them, then reselling at a premium. Prince was a backyard horse. Literally. He lived in someone’s back yard and needed a new home.
Horses Change Hands Frequently For a Reason
The seller had his registration papers, but the last five owners never transferred them. Scraps of papers served as bills of sale, the back of a snack receipt from a convenience store, a quarter-page torn from a yellow legal pad, folded bits of 3-hole punch paper, etc. His last owner traded him for a parrot. When horses change hands frequently, there’s usually a reason, and I intended to find out what it was.
Prince was in good shape, well fed with beautifully spring ribs, strong top line, and sporting a long mane and tail hinting at Arabian blood somewhere in his past. I chatted with him a few minutes, then saddled and mounted.
Prince didn’t take one step forward the entire time I was on his back. He yielded his head. Turned right and left. Backed up. But would not step forward.
I asked him again. Then asked with more conviction. Banged my legs. Slapped his shoulder with the end of the reins. Even tapped him with my spurs. He’d move; just not forward. The reason Prince made frequent change of addresses became clear – he didn’t ride. You could turn him in a tiny circle in place or back up. Most riders wouldn’t be happy with so few options.
Christian Character – Beauty Beneath the Surface
Prince came home with me. Why did I buy him?
His character. Prince was a prince of a horse. One in a million. Sitting on his back as a complete stranger, I asked him for something he wasn’t comfortable doing. And I even asked with emphasis. Prince never tightened. Never objected, sulled up, or argued.
If he could speak he’d say, “I’m not secure enough to move forward, but I won’t hold it against you for asking.”
Christian character – in tribulation it is kind, gentle, and yielding.
In tribulation Prince was kind. Gentle. Yielding. But unable to climb the mountain of insecurity on his own. I could help him with his insecurity. Skills are learned. Character is gift from God, but difficult to develop without someone to guide, love, teach, and encourage us.
God blessed me with many memorable horse moments. One of them is the first time Prince walked all the way around my arena forwards. Woo hoo! His confidence came from the rider – from me. Whatever I asked, he tried to deliver.
Prince rode like a Mercedes. Smooth. When set up correctly, he could single-foot. Comfortable. Safe. Always agreeable and willing. He was the first horse my husband trusted.
“Single footing horses come in many varieties, sizes, colors and coat patterns. They must all be of good temperament, willing, have endurance, easy to train, have good gait, and be smooth at all speeds of gait.” – Equine Avenue
We were fortunate to locate Prince’s last registered owner and get a signed transfer. Prince was officially ours.
Willing to Step Out in Faith
A couple of years later I needed reining points on one of our stallions. Not knowing how many entries would compete at the next show, I wanted an insurance policy. Another horse to put in the class. As an aged horse, the rules required that Prince be ridden with one hand in a curb bit, though all he knew were hackamores and snaffles.
Within two weeks he learned to neck rein and ride a reasonable reining pattern. Both fast and slow circles. Sliding stops. Roll backs and turn arounds. The foundation we’d built made those maneuvers possible. Prince could do them all, just not at full speed.
My biggest concern was lead changes. I didn’t want to fill a class with a horse unable to perform. There had to be something for the judge to score. I didn’t want a zero or DQ (disqualification.) I wanted Prince to deserve the judge’s attention.
Bless his heart, Prince figured it out. He hauled to his first (and last) show like a pro. Calm. Smooth. Kind. Gentle. Yielding. His genuine character shining through when it mattered.
The definition of a reining horse is one “willingly guided.” Prince was that, and more. No pull. No resistance. Honest. Dedicated. And always willing to try. Faith in me gave Prince the courage to do something he’d never done before. Prince could easily have moved on to regular competition, but wasn’t a product of my breeding program.
Servant Hearts Find Ways to Serve
The business of horses is tough. I needed to get paid for training and showing horses. They either belonged to clients or represented our breeding program. As my training commitments grew, I no longer had time or a job for Prince.
I trusted one local trainer who specialized in youth and beginning adults. I asked her to bring over a couple of her students to ride Prince. Once the girls got off they insisted she buy him on the spot. He was gentle. Willing. With luxury suspension. The older I get the more I wish Prince was still in my barn.
Prince had a servant’s heart. He finished out his career as a beginner lesson horse, but still needed guidance from his rider. The trainer told me later, “When a kid is on him and he doesn’t know what to do, he marches in place. Never breaks rhythm, but doesn’t go forward. He stays steady and true until told to do something else.”
Horses like Prince are priceless for who they are. For their character. Most horses can be soft and cuddly when their world is perfectly arranged. The same is true for most people. It is true for most Christians.
True character is revealed when the going gets tough. When it’s painful. When it’s disagreeable.
Everyone Needs Guidance – How Many are Willing?
I never require a horse to do something it isn’t able to do. Sometimes I ask the question, “What happens if…?” The answer tells me what the horse is able or willing to do. That information leads me to educate or motivate. My goal for horses is the gift of obedience for no other reason than because I ask.
God may ask you to do something hard to see what you do. He isn’t interested in the result as much as your response. Will you try? Or sull up? Even if you can’t lift the burden, do you try without kicking, bucking, or arguing with Him?
The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of obedience, yielding, and willingness. God didn’t let Abraham kill his son, He wanted to know if he would.
God NEVER requires us to do something without first equipping us to do it. Obedience is the gift we offer. Like reining horses – like Prince – God values those who are willingly guided. Who remain soft, obedient, willing, and gracious under pressure.
When the going got tough, Prince turned to me for guidance. We turn to Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit is there 24/7/365. God doesn’t take coffee breaks. We are never left alone.
God is ever faithful. Look around your church and circle of friends. Do you see the character of Christ on display? Horses like Prince are rare. People like Prince even more so.
Photos of Prince at my Arizona training facility. Delightfully guided by my niece.