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One Way God Uses the Horse

She didn’t say much when she arrived. Some girls are excited to meet the staff and horses while others try to hide. She seemed to fade into the crowd, as though accustomed to disappearing. She smiled when I said hello, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She even let me hug her, but it was a bit like holding a wilting flower. Her eyes were vacant, and she slowly drifted between people avoiding their touch. All of which and more told me she was barely holding on. She didn’t even have enough life for a fight. Not to hide, or even to survive. She seemed to be waiting for some inevitable outcome.

She stared blankly at the horse she’d been assigned as her session leader checked the cinch and grabbed the bridle. The happy-go-lucky sorrel hung his head, still sleepy from standing in the sun for the last half hour. When she was encouraged to pet his neck and say hello she reached out and ran her fingers under his mane. He turned his nose curiously toward her and, for the briefest moment, I saw a flicker of light come into her eyes. The corner of her mouth lifted involuntarily and it was as if the world outside of that small space ceased to exist. They connected.

When she climbed into the saddle there was a little more curiosity, attentiveness, and hope in her eyes. It was as if she wanted to know how to connect with the horse on his back as much as she had in that moment on the ground. She listened to instruction with an intriguing intensity and wordlessly tried to do all that she was told. I saw fear bubble to the surface when she was taken off the lead line, and I watched as she took a deep breath and pushed fear aside to ride.

Girl and horse spoke without words as they weaved between poles and turned in circles. The spark of life I saw earlier was fanned into a flame with every stride in the saddle, with every word of encouragement and celebration from her session leader on the ground, until her smile was so wide I almost didn’t recognize the face that wore it.

She didn’t share one word about her personal life. She hardly spoke at all. Yet something happened in the saddle. When she dismounted she wrapped her arms around her horse’s neck and pressed her face into his mane as if he’d given her a gift we knew nothing about. Except we did. We told her Jesus loved her far more than this horse loved her, and that He wanted to share a lot more than that with her if she’d let Him. Words she may not have been able to receive an hour before were suddenly seeds planted. When it came time to leave a couple of hours later, her eyes continued to sparkle with renewed hope. I didn’t need to ask for a hug, she wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed like she meant it, and she did the same with her session leader.

Then she ran to her horse and threw her arms around his neck once again. Pressing her cheek to his, tears come to my eyes when I saw her lips form the words, “Thank you,” before she slowly turned to leave. That day, God used a horse to help this beauty bloom.

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