Take Your Blinders Off!
About seven years ago a friend of mine asked me to do something I had never done before: become the primary caregiver for the 15 horses on her property, horses that I had helped train for a nonprofit program. Though I was familiar with the horses, I had never been responsible for their everyday care and feeding. It was nerve wracking to take on this new duty. I had no idea what a challenge it would be!
Horses are herd animals, so they instinctively create a pecking order for themselves. We had recently acquired three retired racehorses that had been severely neglected and were therefore constantly afraid they may never get another meal. With total disregard for the pecking order, the three of them—Susan, Peppie and Sugar—nipped and fretted and pushed until everyone was so stressed that feeding time became a ridiculous game of musical feed buckets.
After a day or two of this, I realized that the new additions were not going to settle into the pecking order anytime soon, so I changed the routine. First thing each morning, I put Susan, Peppie and Sugar into stalls so they and everyone else could eat peacefully.
Another horse in the herd, General, was a small, compact strawberry roan Appaloosa with a perfect little blanket covering his rump. He was a retired cutting horse with a sweet, eager-to-please disposition and eyes too big and wise for his small, muscular body. Appaloosas, as a breed, are smart horses, as horses trained to cut individual cows from a herd must be. This meant that General was very smart. He also had a bit of trickster in him.
He learned to push the barn doors open, work the latch on the feed room and flip the lids off the feed canisters. I wasn’t sure at first if he was the one doing it because I never actually caught him with his head in the feed. It was always Susan, Peppie and Sugar jammed halfway through the door, their rumps lined up neatly to greet me when I walked into the barn.
I tried putting bungee cords on the lids and using a rope to tie the barn doors closed, but several days later, there they were again, munching away. My rope had been chewed in two and the feed bin dumped over, causing the cord and lid to pop off, spilling the contents.
I found it hard to believe that any one of the three was smart enough to get through all those obstacles. They certainly weren’t catching on that fast in training. So one day I took a book up to the barn and settled into a pile of hay in the stall across from the feed room.
Three hours later, I was just about to give up when I heard the barn door slide open a bit. I waited. The door slid open a bit more, and a streak of sunshine hit the concrete floor just outside the stall where I hid. The clock-clock sound of horseshoes on a hard surface echoed through the barn. When I saw General’s head appear, I pushed myself against the wall of the stall hoping he wouldn't see me. I forgot that horses have a keen sense of smell. He sucked in a breath and swung his head round my direction. He looked right at me, sent a huffy little blow my way and then turned toward the feed room.
I watched in awe as he worked the latch with his lips, gave the door a quick kick so it would bounce away from the frame and deftly stick his nose behind the door to pull it open. Then he walked inside, pushed over a can, and nudged it gently so it would roll, both pushing the contents to the front of the can and positioning the can in front of the door at the same time.
He lowered his head, and I expected him to eat, but he didn’t. He just inspected his handiwork and walked back out. At the barn door, he whinnied softly and stepped aside as Susan, Peppie, and Sugar filed into the barn and headed for the feed room.
After that, I doubled the amount of feed I gave Susan, Peppie and Sugar, and General stopped breaking into the feed room—though I did slip a carabiner through the latch just to make sure. In a month’s time, Susan, Peppie and Sugar had filled out, their coats were shiny and healthy, and they had gained enough confidence to eat peacefully in the pasture among the other horses.
Working with horses opened my eyes to what I might be missing in the world, the things I did not see because I had always understood the world through the lens of my own experience. It was not until God opened my eyes to observe the world around me and opened my ears to listen to those with life experiences different from my own that I began to truly understand the suffering of poor people in the United States and across the globe.
What a gift! Of course, to see the world for what it is can be frightening, because what, then, does one do with this new vision? But God promises to guide us down this unknown road, and Paul promises that this new vision will give us the strength of Jesus.
Recently, my eyes were opened again. I had the privilege of interviewing a fellow member of the deaconess and home missioner community. She began her work in the Philippines, her home, before coming to the United States to serve. I asked her how poverty in the United States was different than poverty in the Philippines. She told me that there is no real difference—it is as extreme in the United States as in the Philippines—but in the United States we are better at both hiding poverty and simply ignoring it. Hear the words of God: Take your blinders off!
Creator, give us the vision to see the world as your precious creation, the humility to understand how we have caused harm to it and one another, and the courage to change ourselves and our world to your will.