Investments Take Time

Horses are incredible creatures # 5

coneflower-3549331_1920In autumn last year I re-organized my flowerbeds to have some space for vegetables. This included moving a few plants and I was curious to see how they would do in their new environment. One of them was a coneflower, which had spread widely in its old spot and bloomed like crazy every year. When spring came, almost no leaves showed up and I was afraid I had killed it by moving it, but then a few green leaves poked out of the ground and I was relieved. I took special care of it, watering it faithfully throughout the long, hot summer, but it didn’t bloom. The leaves grew, healthy and strong, but no flower appeared. I was a bit sad, but then I winked at it. ‘Next year,’ I thought.

And then it struck me what a great investment I had put into this plant, caring for it all year long without the reward of pretty yellow flowers shining in my garden. Especially on rainy days these flowers give me special joy, because they look as if the sun is shining anyway. Not this year, though. IMG_0609

My brain did a major leap to my horse. Investment is a large issue there, as well. I bought my horse before it was even born. I felt her kicking in her mother’s belly and was overwhelmed with joy when she was finally born. I aptly named her ‘My Curious Delight’ – and started investing. There’s not that much you can do with a young horse. Teach it to wear a halter and follow your lead. Teach it to pick up its feet so you can clean them. Make it stand still for brushing down. Tell it kicking and biting are not tolerated. And apart from that – just watch it play in the pasture. It’s a long, long way before you start to ride it. At some point you start working lessons with the lunge line, throw things over its back so it can get used to that, teach it voice commands. But it’s still a long, long way before you start to ride it.

I invested three years before I first sat on her back. And what I did then couldn’t be called riding, either. It was still investment. Teach her the clues. Teach her the moves. Hang on for dear life when she suddenly decided she’d had enough now. It took a long, long time before I could relax and say ‘Now I’m riding this horse. I’m enjoying it. The investment is finally paying off.’

I know there are lots of people out there who don’t have the patience for such an investment. They want quick results and take the shortcut. In the flowerbed they would clear out the roots and buy a new plant from the store, already in bloom. With the horses, they often start way too soon and use force to drill the required routine into the animal. There’s little love in such an approach, because the creature doesn’t count. The result does.

What would our world look like if God had no love for it? If He would take the shortcut to get the results He wants? I’ve heard a lot of people accusing him of not doing that. Why doesn’t he stop the suffering? Why does he allow these natural catastrophes? Why doesn’t he end the wars? God, please! Take the shortcut! Make it happen now!

He won’t. His love is totally different from anything we’re able to imagine. He is not afraid to invest hundreds and thousands of years and even His own son to reach His goals. He’s not interested in results. He’s interested in your soul and whether or not it’s with Him. Believe it or not, His main focus is simply to be with you. And that goes for every single human being that has ever lived, lives now or will ever live on this planet. The sheer magnitude of that is bowling me over.

So when we learn from God, we learn to invest. We learn to love people for who they are and not what they achieve. We learn to bear with them through pain and sorrow, if need be, so they may eventually reach their full bloom. And we don’t do it for the bloom, we do it for the person we love. Sometimes we will wish for a shortcut along the way, because some people go through very deep and dark valleys and it’s so hard to stand by them. But the shortcuts never pay off.

Don’t be afraid to invest time and love, even if you don’t see immediate results. It’s not about results, it’s about love.

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The Grass Is Always Greener…

Horses are incredible creatures #4

On the farm where I used to work we had two mini Shetland ponies. They were very cute but it was impossible to keep them inside a fence. The pastures had electric wire fences and as soon as the grass was greener on the other side, the ponies would be found wandering happily among the fresh green while the other horses watched them with hungrMinisy eyes. We were all wondering how they got through the fence, because it was always switched on and the fence was never torn anywhere. The lowest wire was below their backline, so they couldn’t simply go underneath if they dipped their heads.

One day I saw them. I was standing right next to the battery powering the fence and I could hardly believe my eyes. Both ponies were waiting right in front of the fence, their heads bobbing slightly in exactly the same rhythm as the battery was ticking.

And then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, they both dove under the wire in the pause between two ticks. One of them caught the last bit of electricity from the next shock on his butt, but what did it matter? He was through. I could fairly hear them snickering to each other as they dove into the fresh grass, feeling very clever.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We are waiting by the restrictions in our lives for an opportunity to gain some advantage we think we need or deserve. The rules imposed on us by society or law or even religion seem to hem us in and rob us of our freedom and our happiness. We check the fence and find the weak spot and then we slip through, feeling very clever and proud of ourselves.

It doesn’t matter whether the fence is called tax law or marriage or speed limit. The consequences of our actions pose a threat to us and maybe even to those around us. If we cannot resist the temptations of a gorgeous man or woman, our marriage will suffer, even if it was just a one-night-stand. If our breaking the speed limit results in an accident, people might die. And it will fall back on us at some point if our twiddling with the taxes is found out.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,” Jesus once said to his disciples. And that’s not because he wants to restrict us. It’s because he knows better what’s good for us than we know ourselves.

It would have been a lot better for those ponies to stay inside the fence, as they were hopelessly overweight. But they just didn’t see that.

Horses are incredible creatures #3

IMG_3602Thoughts on order

My daily routine is pretty much the same between 6.15 a.m. and noon. I’m usually found in the stable around 10.30 a.m., mucking out the stall and preparing the fodder for the evening. So every evening, when Cutie (my horse) comes in from pasture, she finds a clean bed of straw and a stack of hay.

One day I fetched her in before I had gotten around to cleaning the stall and it looked just the way she had left it that morning – not a pretty sight. Cutie followed me up to the door of the stall but instead of going in as usual, she stopped dead in her tracks, lowered her head and sniffed in a manner I can only describe as disgusted.

I really had to laugh at her reaction, but then I wondered about the power of routine and the level of order my horse is used to.

I have to admit that order is a sore point in my overall existence. There were times in my life when the title “messy” would have been more than appropriate to describe my apartment. Today, keeping order in a household with three men is a struggle worthy of Sisyphus.

I began to muse about the question why I would rather muck out 15 stalls than wash, vacuum and sweep the house. I would, honestly! There is something extremely tedious about housework. And while stable work is surely the heavier work, it is much more satisfying. Why?

In the Bible Jesus says “Don’t worry about tomorrow. It’s enough that each day has its own load.” Mucking out the stable is like that. It’s dirty in the morning, I go in and clean up, and then I’m done. I don’t have to worry about it again for the rest of the day. It’s deeply satisfying.

Not so in the house. I get a load of laundry done, sort it back into the wardrobes and when I turn around, I see the next stack of dirty underwear piled up in the basket. When I’ve done the dishes, the next meal comes up in no time at all. I’ve vacuumed and ten minutes later the kids come in from playing outside and I wonder why I bothered. No matter what I do to secure order in the house, as soon as I turn around the next task will jump at me. There is no end. Ever.

Perhaps I have to learn to shift my focus. Instead of being frustrated about all the things I still have to do, I should focus on the things that I did. When the clean laundry is folded and put away, I should take a moment to look at it and be satisfied. Only then will I pick up the dirty underwear and put it away to be washed tomorrow, because today I won’t worry about it anymore. I always do that when I leave the stable clean and orderly behind me – one sweep with the eyes, a nod to myself. Done.

It might sound trivial, but the art of being grateful for the things accomplished substantially increases my well-being. And it keeps me focused on the moment I live in instead of worrying about the things that have not yet come to pass.

So today, when you have accomplished even the meanest task, take a moment to appreciate its worth instead of rushing on to the next item on your to-do list. You might even celebrate it with a five minute break and a nice cup of coffee. I’m sure it will increase your sense of accomplishment.

Horses are incredible creatures #2

WildfangI have this theory despite the fact that I don’t believe in reincarnation: Every clown who dies comes back as a Haflinger pony. Having owned a Haflinger pony named Wildfang for 12 years (R.I.P.), I had plenty of opportunity to verify this theory. Let me give you an example.

It was summer, lovely trail weather and I went out for a ride with a friend of mine. We came across a freshly harvested field and looked at each other with wide grins on our faces. Then we did something I can only strongly advise against: We decided to gallop across the field without checking the ground first. This proved to be fatal. A deep ditch had been washed into the middle of the field by recent rainfalls. Haflinger ponies are bred in the mountains of Italy and therefore have a lot of common sense. They usually keep their head and watch their footing, so we both saw the ditch in time and stopped. My friend’s thoroughbred mare, however, stumbled right into it at top speed, somersaulted and threw my friend off. Before I could react, my friend yelled “I’m fine, catch my horse!”

It was trotting slowly across the field back in the direction of the stable and I went after it, wondering how on earth I was supposed to catch a thoroughbred on my stubby little pony! I was sure the mare would take off again if I tried to lope after her, so I kept my pace slow while carefully reducing the distance. This seemed to work pretty well. I finally got so close that I thought I could jump off my pony, run a few steps and then grab the reins. Since my pony’s life mission was to eat everything in sight, I wasn’t worried about him in the least. He would stop to graze the minute I was off his back.

“Now or never,” I thought and swung down, took a few steps and managed to get a hold of the reins. I heaved a great sigh of relief and turned around, only to see Wildfang trotting past me with a big grin on his face. (Haflinger owners will know that this is possible.) If he had been able to talk, he would probably have called “Freedom!” over his shoulder while I gaped after him, watching is unusually short mane bobbing in the wind. I was dumbfounded.

“Wildfang,” I yelled after him, “I thought I could trust you!” (Don’t ask me why. It probably shows the state of confusion I was in.) You wouldn’t expect a horse to react to that, would you? No. Neither did I. What can I say?

He stopped. Yes, he stopped and turned his head, waiting for me to lead the mare up to him and take his reins as well. I could have sworn he said, “Just kidding.”

Horses are incredible creatures.

Horses are incredible creatures #1

Cutie417When my father died in 2007, the days before and after the funeral were trying times for me. I had terrible nightmares and woke up on the funeral day feeling as if I had battled dragons and demons in the night. Even though the service went well and was not unbearably emotional, I was dead beat by the time I got home. Excusing myself from my husband I went out to the pasture to find a bit of solitude to sort my thoughts and feelings. My horse was dozing peacefully in the company of another and they both were not bothered by my presence. I leaned onto my horse’s back, resting my cheek against the soft coat and closing my eyes. I felt the tension of the past hours drain from me and tears started to flow. My horse waited patiently, never moving an inch or even shifting weight to another leg. I was grateful for the rest that she had given me and when I felt halfway sorted again, I straightened up. I thought that maybe fifteen minutes had passed and was amazed that both horses had kept so still the whole time. But when I looked at my watch my jaw dropped. I had not stood there for fifteen minutes. I had stood there for two full hours.
For two full hours those two horses had comforted me in my misery, had stood by me even though they had not been tethered and could have moved off to start grazing again any minute.
Horses are incredible creatures.