When I was ten years old, my family moved from New York to Mississippi. It was 1965 and racial prejudice was at an all-time high. This prejudice came in all forms, and I soon discovered that I was one of the main targets. The children were cruel with their hatred and ridicule, and being extremely sensitive, all I could do was cry. The tears wouldn’t stop and the depression was so long and severe that I developed stomach ulcers. I was taken to a psychologist, but the negative beliefs that I learned through my pain were only able to be healed through the opposite of hate, which was love. My parents tried their best, but the lies I believed about myself needed to be replaced with truth…and God had to do that. So He sent a horse.
Princess was a very young filly who had been abused. She had been very sick, and her owners dragged her behind their pickup truck to force her into a certain gait, or trot, that they knew she could do. Every time she “broke gait,” and went into a canter, she was beaten. She was so skinny that an adult could touch his feet together underneath her belly while seated on her back. She was very nervous, jumpy and fearful of people. She was difficult to handle and unpredictable, so it was decided to send her to a trainer. Unfortunately, the way of training horses back then was to discipline them into submission, so when she came home, she truly was “broken.” The wounds on her mouth and flanks told me that she was in pain, and I related to her broken heart. We bonded. The journey God put the two of us on was a long one, full of one adventure after another. She constantly got into trouble. She tore open her chest on barbed wire, foundered and coliced, broke out of her pasture repeatedly–traveling over a bridge and highway, almost died from throat paralysis and a calcium deficiency, drank a container of lye and severely burned her mouth and throat…to name a few of her antics. I had opportunity after opportunity to sit with her and show her love. And when a hurting heart gives to another, the healing process begins. She became my confidant, listening to me and my troubles over and over. As the years passed, the love she gave me is beyond words. I cry as I write this, because she became the friend I ached for, and temporarily filled a void in my heart that I later learned God wanted to fill. Through Princess, God taught me the truths that replaced the lies in my belief system: I learned that I had something to give. I learned that I was lovable. I learned that hard times were to make you stronger, and I learned that I was not alone. He demonstrated His unconditional love to me through this little horse, and I will never forget her.
At Stomhaven Youth Ranch we desire to be a safe place where a child can connect with a horse and begin the healing process, no matter what negative experience each has been through. We hope to offer each child a time of unconditional love, one-on-one in an intimate ranch setting, where seeds are planted and hope is given. Many of our horse have their own pain. This is the story of one of them and the moment she began to change.
As I walked around the ranch doing odd chores, I caught a glimpse of Gracie standing at the gate watching me. She was all alone and had a different look in her eye than usual. I walked over to her and clearly sensed her saying to me, “I’m ready now.” She was broken. Surrendered. I placed a halter on her and led her into the round pen. She had been watching me and the children all summer. One by one, we would come get a horse and take it to the pen and ride. She would get left behind in the pasture, because she was the wild one who never had anyone on her back before. A crazy, angry, wild Arab when we loaded her a year ago—now was communicating to me that she wanted to be a part of the ranch too. My prayer has been that her namesakes would one day be able to ride her—the two little Grace’s who are still yet babes. The moment was full.
Then it happened. She took a step, and then another, and another, and was slowly walking around the pen. I couldn’t help myself. I cried. Sometimes joy is so extreme when you are in God’s presence, that you are speechless, and tears are the only things that come out. I was so grateful. Gracie had made a decision to join. To not be left behind anymore, but to die to her fears and surrender to the unknown. That’s all God asks…He does the rest. I spent an hour grooming her, talking to her. Her ears followed me everywhere. She was watching every move I made. She accepted the saddle. And then she accepted me. I eased onto her from the mounting steps and held rock still. She didn’t flinch. Those ears were pointed back, but only to listen, not in anger. We just stood there. Another 30 minutes passed as I sat frozen and talked to her. She dozed off at one point, and awoke with a start when she realized someone was on her back. I laughed because my heart shot up into my throat and my adrenaline pounded when she jumped, and I realized I was scared to death. I hadn’t fallen off a horse in 25 years, and I really didn’t want to do it again…I may not bounce anymore. So I eased off of her back and called it a day. That was the beginning of an amazing journey with children. She has blessed many with rides, trained online with teens, and become an amazing partner with broken hearts that are healing.