“Our horses are special because they listen to the anger, fears, hurts, uncertainty, and joys of our kids without telling a soul the secrets entrusted to them.”Amanda Zamarron, Cookson Hills Housemom
Since July 2019, students have flocked to the barn for horsemanship classes. Every time students come to the barn for a horsemanship class, they get to interact with a horse, do some barn chores, and participate in a devotion. The interaction with the horse includes caring for and usually riding the horse. The barn chores, while a necessary component of caring for the horses, also foster a good work ethic in our students. The devotions give students opportunities to connect with God and learn Biblical truths through the horses. As the Equine Specialist at Cookson Hills, I have the privilege to work with the students and horses to foster an environment that can bring healing.
Horsemanship classes are divided by different levels of licenses. Students coming to the barn for the first time start by earning their green license. These students memorize the barn safety rules, or “get tos,” and explain the reason for each get to. Students practice leading, tying, and grooming their horses. Green license students also learn how to maintain proper body position and control of the horse while riding the horse at a walk. After both a performance test and a riding test, students earn their green license.
During the class, fourth-grader Joseph learned the following life lesson from the horses, “You have to be safe around horses like you have to be safe in the real world. Don’t always follow along with what other people want you to do.”
Several of our students have already earned their green license and are working towards their blue license. Blue license students are responsible for saddling and unsaddling their horses when they ride. Learning about the daily care horses require is also part of earning a blue license. While riding, students practice controlling their own bodies and their horses’ bodies at a walk and trot. Practicing safe, wise horsemanship is a must for blue license students.
After completing the class, a few middle school students shared their favorite experiences. Mackenzie said, “I liked trying something new, like when we got to ride without the saddles.” Clay’s favorite was, “When we first got to learn how to trot and I didn’t know what was happening!” Anon reflected, “When we got to saddle them by ourselves, I felt accomplished.”
As I mentioned before, every horsemanship class has a time for devotions. Psalm 139 was the devotional focus during a horsemanship class last summer. On the last day of class, we studied King David’s prayer in verses 23 and 24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me in the path of everlasting life.”
The students and I discussed how hard it is to find time to be still before the Lord. Some students mentioned how scary it can be to open ourselves up to Him, giving Him permission to show us what things in our lives need to change. However, the students and I agreed on how that type of prayer is an essential component of a thriving relationship with God, so we used the horses to create an opportunity for that kind of prayer time.
The students led their horses onto the lawn and wandered off for a time of personal prayer. I encouraged the students to use King David’s prayer to quiet their hearts and minds and see what the Lord would show them. Although some students were nervous, being with their horses helped them calm down and listen to the Lord.
Horses crunched grass between their teeth and lazily swished flies with their tails as the students stroked them and began to pray. Kids hugged their horses, leaned on them, or simply watched them eat. Peace settled over the valley while the kids relaxed and connected with the Lord. Only He knows for sure what passed between Him and the students during that time, but several months later, one seventh grade boy recalled that moment. He said, “I liked that one time we took the horse and let him eat. It was quiet. We had time to talk to God while it was quiet.”
When I get lost in my crazy life as a wife, mom, teacher, friend, and daughter, I can hear the Lord whispering to me to completely be with Him like those kids were with Him and their horses that summer afternoon. He urges me to let Him know my anxious thoughts and allow Him to correct anything in me that offends Him. So I do, smiling while I remember yet another time God used horses to help kids connect to Him.