By Amanda Settle
Emily’s story is one riddled with brokenness—the kind that makes you feel sick inside.
She comes from a family that has experienced some of the worse types of trauma. For many kids who have a past similar to Emily’s, the journey toward healing and recovery is slow. Each child requires time to build trust and to share the pain that they‘d rather hide.
None of this was true for Emily. There was no hiding. The pain was right on the surface. She was raw, visceral and honest. Her actions seemed to plead that someone, really anyone, would listen. She needed to know that she was worth being heard. In the midst of the mess, her soul was desperate to be seen. She was convinced she was alone; the only person on the face of the earth who’d walked this horrific road.
But, she wasn’t alone.
From the first day I met Emily, she captured a special place in my heart. The connection that I felt with this broken girl was also felt by one of our small horses named Cassidy. This tiny mare’s fondness for Emily was different from what I’d ever seen her demonstrate before. Every time Cassidy—who was a loner in our herd— would spot Emily, her ears would perk up. Often as we ventured out into the paddock together, it was not uncommon for Cassidy to walk up the hill and meet us halfway with her silent, sweet greeting.
It didn’t take long before Emily’s time with Cassidy became a bright spot in her painful journey of walking through her past brokenness and into a new future of wholeness. I saw Cassidy’s presence minister peace when there was turmoil. The mare gave companionship when Emily was lonely, and she brought a steadiness to a hurting soul when it seemed that everything in life was being shaken. During Emily’s extra hard days, when talking seemed to only stir up the pain, I would quietly suggest that she trot Cassidy around the arena on her own. Without fail, I’d hear her sweet little voice, singing to Cassidy as she rode toward freedom. Within this simple place—for a moment—pain was overridden with peace.
Rarely is there a quick fix for years of trauma. However, step by perseverant step, I’ve seen change. Cassidy’s gentle and ever-so patient nature has helped to build Emily’s confidence and has empowered her in ways I can’t quite explain.
Emily recently expressed in her own words what Cassidy has meant to her:
* Name has been changed
By Emma Jansson
The very first time Bethany came out to the ranch, she told me that she has always dreamt of riding a Clydesdale. I informed her that she was in luck, we have a Clydesdale cross named Little Bear. I told her all about his story. After that, she couldn’t wait to ride him!
Once Little Bear was all groomed and tacked up, we started to work him from the ground in the round pen. She and Little Bear connected. He joined up with her, and followed her around the round pen, matching her step for step. She couldn’t help but break into a big smile and continued to wear it the whole time!
The look in her eyes said to me, “I’m special. I feel wanted.” She rode him bareback for the last part of our session, beaming from ear to ear. During this time, I stepped back and prayed for her. I felt God saying that He had saved Little Bear’s life just for her.
After we put Little Bear away and went to get a snack from the kitchen, I got eye level with her and said, “You know what I think? I think God saved Little Bear many years ago just for you. Just so you could ride him today and make your dream come true.” She looked close to tears and couldn’t say anything in response.
The next time she came to the ranch, she informed me that she told her brother that God had saved Little Bear just for her. Her brother had doubtfully replied, “And hundreds of other kids too.” Bethany looked at him and said, “Jesus would’ve died on the cross if it was just for me . . . so why wouldn’t He save Little Bear just for me?”
I was so proud that she knew of Jesus’ love in the pure way of a child. Later, in our time together, she was gazing thoughtfully around the ranch from the back of a Ranger. When I asked her what she was thinking, she smiled slightly and said, “I think this might be the happiest place on earth.”
By Sarah Robinett
“Sometimes I feel like I want to be brave.”
I stood in silence as I let the words sink in. The girl who sat across from me during our Harvest Day class was painting the word “Brave” in large, bold letters across the wooden board in front of her. I remembered how just the day before, I’d been looking at what seemed to be a completely different child.
This same shy 10 year-old, who we’ll call “Hannah,” stood off to the side as our Greeter paired kids with their session leaders. Her name was called and she came my way. I noticed that she was very tall for her age and walked nervously and somewhat awkwardly as she followed me to start our session.
When I asked her what she wanted to do, she wrung her hands and responded, “I guess maybe . . . we could . . . ride a horse.”
“You guess maybe we could?” I countered with a big smile.
“Oh… um… sorry. Let’s ride a horse.”
At that moment, I had an odd thought. It was more like a deep knowing than a thought. This girl needed to ride Phoenix, more commonly known here as, Phoebe.
Phoebe came as a three-year-old mare from the most extreme rescue the ranch has ever been a part of . . . a backyard breeding program of over 300 starving, emaciated and dead horses. Dogs roamed everywhere too, living and breeding in piles of junk. The dogs were also starved to the point of attacking and eating the carcasses of the horses who’d died. Amazingly, Phoebe survived the rescue and transportation to the ranch and the staff here at Crystal Peaks lovingly nourished Phoebe back to health. Still, however, she sometimes struggles with fear and trust. To be successful during a session, she needs a strong, confident leader.
And Hannah was anything but confident.
Unsure of the combination, but trusting the Lords urging, we set out to halter Phoebe. Hannah listened intently as I told her Phoebe’s horrific story of survival and her current need of a confident rider. I also explained to Hannah that once someone earns Phoebe’s trust, she becomes one of the most loyal horses I’ve ever met.
Once in the arena and atop Phoebe’s back, I was amazed at the transformation I saw in Hannah. She quietly and confidently directed Phoebe around cones and through obstacles. Each time Phoebe acted a bit nervous, Hannah calmly regained her focus. My new, young friend rode like a champion. While riding, she started to talk—and tell me stories—and laugh! She came to life! I stood amazed at the miracle unfolding before my eyes. . .a timid, little girl teaching out to a timid, rescued horse. . . and showing her how to be brave.
“Sometimes I want to be brave.”
I jolted back to the present. “Hannah, yesterday with Phoebe . . . you were brave. It was incredible to watch you work with her so well. It takes a pretty special person to be able to do what you did for such a broken and kind horse.”
She smiled up at me and quietly went back to work. At the end of the class, I looked again at her board. Behind the word “Brave,” was a painted horse silhouette running into the wild colors of a sunset. I couldn’t help but think that horse must have been Phoebe.
By: Sarah Aydt
Ever feel like you just don’t get the point?
Or maybe you do understand the point, but you still seem to be missing some major part of what’s going on? This is the perfect description of me every time I’m asked to work with a horse in a round pen.
Many of you may not understand how to train a horse in a round pen and perhaps now would be the best time to explain this concept. However, since I’m still learning, let’s explore the concept of round penning together.
About a month ago, the Lord asked me to work with a horse in the round corral for that specific week during our Crystal Peaks staff horse class. Even though I work on a horse ranch, I’m still a relative beginner with horses. Stepping up to the call made my heart alternate between excitement and nervousness.
Although I still had very little clarity as to why the Lord was moving me to choose this activity, I voiced my desire to Jeff, our equine manager and fabulous teacher. I did my best to explain what I was hoping for during class that day. I was guided to work with Little Bear because, as Jeff put it, “He’s a pro!”
Jeff was right. Little Bear was great in the round pen. The moment I took off his halter, he began to move with thoughtful purpose. The massive buckskin gelding closely followed the wall while I stood in the center of the round corral. Working within my limited understanding, this was the first step of reaching the goal: to ask the horse to circle around you.
My hope was to encourage the horse to consider “choosing me.” This equine choice, or ‘join-up’ is the beautiful process of when a completely free horse chooses to trust, yield and bond with a human. This is demonstrated in several ways, the most powerful being when the horse stops all forward momentum and turns to face you. And then, with no more invitation than extending your palm, the horse moves into the center of the circle and touches your outstretched hand with their muzzle.
To be chosen by a horse . . . is a powerful experience.
It was only a matter of minutes before Little Bear turned to face me. I watched in awe as his giant feet moved toward my extended hand. At this point, I thought the session was over. Little Bear had done what I had hoped for.
I turned to Jeff to explain my thoughts and request guidance with how to best use the remaining hour of our time in the round pen. He answered by giving me some ideas of what I could do to strengthen my new bond with Little Bear. I asked the giant gelding to change directions at a trot. Each time he turned back towards me. I quickly realized that there are many teachable moments in round penning. Finally, Jeff prompted me to request Little Bear to slow from a trot to a purposeful walk. He suggested I do this by simply taking a deep breath. Much to my surprise, the horse DID slow down to a walk. It was a seamless transition from a trot to a strong walk all from a simple and subtle cue.
A major “Ah-ha” moment filled my heart in that same instant. The ultimate point of working in the round pen is to guide your horse to attune to you—and you to your horse. It’s through this process of learning to ‘read’ the horse you’re working with and encourage them to ‘read’ you—that communication in the round pen reaches its full training potential.
That is what the Lord wanted to say to me on this day. “Sarah, your purpose isn’t found in finding the right answer and getting the job done. Your purpose is found in the daily relationship of getting to know ME.”
What I am slowly learning is this: it’s within the pursuit to know God—that all His fruit through us—falls into the hands of those who are hungry.
As we keep our eyes on Jesus and practice following His lead, we will start to grasp His voice quicker and more quietly. We will be watching for His subtle cues to ‘turn in’ and ‘join-up’ with His plan, ready to follow Him at any moment.
Do you feel like you’re in the round pen with God?
Have you felt as if you’re running in circles, looking for the right answer to fall before you so you can take the next step? Friend, be encouraged. Take a moment today to stop running and striving for the answers—and start to just pursue the character of God. Turn into HIS plan and HE will give you the next step. Look to Him for who He is—your God.
As you grow in your relationship with Him, you won’t have to run after the answers—instead—He just wants you to run after HIM. The ‘answers’ you seek won’t feel quite so much like the point anymore . . . they will feel more like pursuing the ONE who already knows the way.
By: Sarah Aydt
One of my favorite seasons to walk up the ranch hill is when winter is turning into spring. On my way up to the office, I search the garden beds that follow the hill for little specks of green. The new growth shares such hope with my heart that life is coming. These new plants push through nearly frozen ground! They’ve been tucked away, buried beneath soil for the stretch of winter.
I suppose the plants sort of “retreat to their roots” for the harsh season. Then they faithfully return to display their beauty when spring arrives.
Seeing this beauty emerge from the frozen ground reminds me so much of our faithful Father. Many of His promises come to mind as I walk slowly up the hill and allow my mind to soak in all He has done. He creates beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3), He makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), and He makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The simple truth of these promises is enough to make my soul sing.
Yet, the Lord calls us even deeper.
Not only are these promises true from God, but they are true of YOU in Christ. Because of Jesus, in His time, all the pieces of you are being made beautiful. Even the deepest parts of you are made new. This isn’t just His will for His people, it’s His will for YOU.
If you’re like me, sometimes this isn’t an easy truth to live out. I once asked a treasured friend of mine, “If I know what’s true of me in Christ, how do I live like I believe it, even if I don’t feel like I do?” Her answer wasn’t one I loved at first, but it’s stuck with me ever since. She simply said, “You just live like it’s true.”
So I began to ask the Lord, “How do I live the truth of something I struggle to believe?” His answer was right within the hope I gain from those flower buds that arise from the frozen ground every spring. He asks me to tuck myself away in Him to draw from His strength. Just like those plants, when I need to soak in life, I “retreat to my roots,” which is Jesus Himself.
As we walk with the Lord, seasons of life will come and go. What doesn’t change is our faithful Father. If our roots are in Him, those won’t change either—no matter what we face. So when life around you seems hard to endure, take time to return to your roots and find yourself at the feet of Jesus.
My friend, if you return to the deep place of His Presence, you will see Him lift your heart from the frozen ground and spring new life from it. You will be renewed every time—and your beauty will shine like those flowers reaching up toward the warm spring sun.
For those who desire to know their worth and beauty in the Father, this is my encouragement: Seek Him in the process. He desires to guard you and keep you, to mend you and mold you. Most of all, He wants to hold you secure in His arms, teaching you who you are in His eyes. The way we find His heart for us is by resting in what is true of Him. When we rest in these truths, we learn that these things are true of us, too.
Finding our roots in Christ is foundational to living. It’s the bedrock of life that springs from death, light from darkness, beauty from ashes, and new from old. Trust in the One who is able and see Him work in you.
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17, NLT, emphasis added).
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
(Colossians 2:7, NLT, emphasis added).