I still remember the moment when I first saw him.
He was everything I had ever dreamed of. He was tall, well-muscled, and had a red coat that rivaled the brightest flame. In addition to his dashing good looks, he was the most gentle of giants. I was pretty sure that I would never see such a great horse at such a great price again. To put it bluntly, it was love at first sight.
I brought him home and was amazed at how easily he unloaded from the trailer and entered into his new pen. There was no balking, no fear at the strange new sights and sounds; in fact, he seemed to be enjoying this new adventure. Then it happened. As I was petting him in the field, I reached up to rub between his ears. Strider’s gentle, brown eyes widened, his nostrils flared, and he began to rear. Terrified, I leapt back, barely escaping his flailing hooves. By the time he settled down, we were both terrified and Strider immediately lowered his head, burying it into my chest.
Why had a seemingly gentle and loving horse reacted in such a dangerous way? Fear. I later found that Strider’s previous owners had twisted his ears and bent them forward, forcing his head down into the bridle. Instead of being effective, their heavy-handed methods had turned Strider into an extremely head-shy horse. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little disheartened at this point. Earning the trust of an animal that has been abused is a very difficult, if not impossible, task. What if he never trusted me?
The next morning and every morning after that for the next several months, I went out into the field with him. If I knew one thing for sure, it was this: his fears hadn’t been formed in one day and his trust wasn’t going to be earned in one either. Instead of rushing things, I would just love on him: petting him, talking to him, getting to know him. Strider proved very receptive to my attention, even breaking from the herd when he saw me coming. He wanted my company, though my other horses only came for treats. Very slowly I began to work my petting up his neck and closer to his ears. At first he would jerk his head up and look down at me with fear radiating out of those big, brown eyes of his. But he was no longer rearing and I counted this as progress. I used the yielding and release method as I worked with him. As soon as he yielded to my touch by relaxing his head and body, I would immediately withdraw my hands to a location that he wasn’t afraid of. With this knowledge, Strider began to yield more and more quickly because he knew that as soon as he did, I would release.
But we couldn’t stop here and, though it would be difficult, I had to ask him for more. If I was ever going to put a bridle on him, we would have to overcome his fear about his ears. Remember that it was from his ears that his fears ultimately stemmed. So instead of stopping at his face, I now moved my hands all the way up to his ears. At first this was a real struggle, no matter how much he enjoyed our time together, he still had that same, paralyzing fear. But I tried to be patient and it really wasn’t long before he let me not only touch his ears, but bend them forward like I would do when it came time to bridle him. Instead of this making him shy of our daily meetings, he would now push his head into my chest and rub all over me.
More time passed and he now showed little to no reaction when I touched his head and ears. This kind of trust took time and wisdom to build and it wasn’t easy. The more I asked of Strider, the more he had to yield, and yielding was a decision I couldn’t force him into. He had to take ownership of his part in order for us to make any progress. In the end, because I was willing to release him and because he was willing to yield to produce that release, we were able to build a lasting trust.
God’s been teaching me that our relationship, His and mine, is like this. When the Lord purchases us out of our old way of life, we sometimes still carry fears from our past. In order to overcome these fears and build a trusting relationship, we must yield to the Lord’s touch.
We do this by relaxing our hold on our fears, by surrendering them completely to Him. The more we get to know the Savior who purchased us—not with mere money, but with His own blood—the more we will be willing to yield our lives to His gentle touch. There will never be a time in our lives when the Lord is not asking us to yield something; as a matter of fact, the Lord requires that we surrender everything. Do our lives reflect this sort of trust-filled surrender? I know it’s difficult to trust sometimes, especially when all we can see is the thing that’s taken us captive but this is where we must change our focus. The only way to do this is to trustingly take our eyes off of our fears and look to Him.
“Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).