Equine angels: The Magic of Ranch Horses

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"They are some of the most patient, kind, hardworking horses in the world and they carry kids around for Jesus."

– by Anne Douglas

 
A few years ago, a camper came to our Horse Lover’s Weekend in June. I’ll call her Maddie. Her face was hard and closed. She let us know she did not want to be here. She crossed her arms and gave us attitude.
 

That was on the Friday night. Saturday morning, the girls went to the barn and Maddie got to ride. I think the horse she rode was Penny. After lunch, we did a short devotion with the girls and there was an opportunity to respond with art. She drew a heart that was shattered and broken, with scars all over it. She gave it to me and said, “This is me.” Suddenly she was a much softer, vulnerable version of herself and we talked a little about her life.

In my opinion, Penny gets a lot of the credit for softening Maddie to the point where she could literally share her heart with us.

We see this happen all the time in the summer. Whether it’s helping kids open up, face their fears, develop compassion or simply experience joy, the horses are a huge part of the ministry we do here at the Ranch.

In fact, I always explain to the horse staff that they are like equine missionaries. They are some of the most patient, kind, hardworking horses in the world and they carry kids around for Jesus.

Penny, for instance, is one of my favourites. She’s getting on in years, but she’s been at the Ranch for ages, maybe even decades. She is so incredibly gentle. In her years here she’s helped children and young adults with special needs feel safe in the saddle. She loves to be brushed. She has enormous brown eyes with long, sweeping eyelashes. She brings peace wherever she is.

Another favourite is Hidalgo. Campers love her because she’s fast. It’s not hard to get her into a lope. She’s a great riding teacher because the more a rider can calm down and use their whole body to communicate with her, the better she goes. She looks like a show horse when an experienced rider is on her. At the same time, she’s one of our best behaved trail horses for retreat groups. The only people who don’t like her are vets. Hidalgo’s been known to kick a vet across the barnyard — while sedated. Heaven help you if you have to do first aid on Hidalgo. I guess she just really doesn’t like medical attention. Can horses have white coat syndrome?

Tommy is another star. After about eight years at the Ranch, he still loves to be ridden. Many campers have had their “first lope” on this old guy. He’s not the prettiest on the outside but he’s got the best heart and mind. One funny thing about Tommy is whenever he eats his breakfast in a stall, he kicks at the air. It’s like he thinks some invisible horse behind him is trying to steal his food. But he would NEVER kick a person. He can do anything from lead a trail ride, teach a beginner to ride and do advanced maneuvers with experienced riders like barrel racing or jumping. We love Tommy.

I love each horse is our herd of 20. Each of our camp horses is an angel in his or her own way. The barn is such a focal point at the Ranch because of the magic of the horses. Retreat guests from the city ooh and aah when they meet and ride our horses. Campers get to experience a real, living, breathing creature with warm flesh and fur, so different from the cold virtual reality of electronic devices.

The fact that these 1000-pound beasts allow us to lead them around with a thin nylon rope or ride them on a hunk of leather strapped to their backs boggles the mind. They are beautiful and social; hardworking and obedient (mostly); full of endless personality and charm. Taking care of them in the winter and watching them minister in the summer is one of my greatest joys.

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Anne Douglas is co-director of Circle Square Ranch. Her and her husband Andrew and their three kids have lived at the Ranch since 2014.

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