For this farm couple, a small paint horse proved to be one of their guardian angels.
Apr 19, 2010
For four generations my husband Robert’s family has run our dairy farm in Albany, Ohio–ever since Dr. Wade Jeffers quit medicine for farming in the 1930s.
I looked out the window at the hills where our small herd of horses grazed. All these years... Was it worth it? I wondered now.
Our troubles had started with what sounded like a stroke of luck. The state and federal government put money aside to improve the land along our creek. That meant improvements to our farm and the rest of our land as well. The government was even going to help us build new facilities.
Unfortunately, the government work couldn’t begin until we had a plan to move the dairy operation 100 yards away from its present location. Naturally, Dr. Jeffers didn’t have future government regulations in mind when he decided where to build it.
Our plans had to be rubber stamped by several different agencies. Endless specifications, countless inspections–what a headache. And the work was mandatory. We couldn’t decline the improvements.
What had seemed like a gift turned into a curse as our family tried to force a farm built in the 1930s to fit the demands of the twenty-first century. It put us deep into debt.
In four years we’d cashed in everything we had, including my state teachers’ retirement account, and we still weren’t out of the hole. Sometimes I felt like I never even wanted to look at our beloved farm again.
I went into the living room where Robert sat on the couch. The stress had taken its toll on both of us, but Robert especially. His blood pressure was soaring and medications didn’t seem to help.
“You can’t farm in this condition,” the doctor told Robert on his last visit. “If you push yourself, I don’t think you’ll live.”
That didn’t stop the creditors from calling. Or stop government representatives and lawyers coming on a daily basis. I was exhausted and nervous all the time. I combed the library for books about dealing with stress, but I needed more than books to ease my troubled mind.
I needed someone with more strength than Robert or I had left. I needed God.
“Let’s go for a walk,” I said one afternoon, reaching for Robert’s hand. “We won’t go far. I want to show you some breathing exercises I learned. They really help.”
Robert sighed and followed me outside. Even with all our problems I couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty around me. Our farm sits atop the highest ridge in the county, with rolling hills spread out below us. I steered us away from the dairy operation and toward the horse pasture.
“This is far enough,” Robert said as we reached the other side of the first hill. In the distance our horses grazed. How mighty and powerful they looked. If only they could give us some of their strength!
“Sit cross-legged,” I instructed Robert, spreading a blanket on the cool grass. “And close your eyes.”
Robert settled himself on the grass, and I knelt behind him. I massaged his shoulders, tense as could be. I rubbed his temples.
“Breathe in slowly to the sound of my voice,” I said. “Breathe all the way in, so your stomach expands, not just your chest.” God, he needs your healing, I prayed. We both do.
We hadn’t been there long when I noticed the horses making their way toward us over the hill. Cheyenne, one of the paint horses, was in the lead. We’ll have to get up if they get too close, I thought.
Horses often kicked suddenly if startled, so it wasn’t safe to sit at their feet. It was easy for a horse to injure a person with his hooves without meaning to. But I didn’t want to interrupt Robert until I had to. I breathed with him, willing myself to relax.
Cheyenne was almost upon us, but I still couldn’t bring myself to move. Maybe I’d been so trampled down already I just couldn’t fear any more.
Robert tensed up, hearing the horses. “It’s okay,” I said, watching Cheyenne a few feet away. “I’ll tell you if we have to move. Just concentrate on the breathing.”
Cheyenne took another step closer until he was right in front of Robert. He dropped his head as if he was going to nibble the grass. Instead he pressed his muzzle to the crown of Robert’s head. I’d never seen a horse act this way. Robert wasn’t bothered. In fact, his shoulders dropped lower.
I sat down on the grass. Minutes went by. Robert’s head dropped, and his body settled closer to the ground. Cheyenne adjusted his muzzle to fit Robert’s new position.
The other horses came forward, as curious as I was about this strange scene. Cheyenne turned on them, ears pinned back. That was horse language for “back off.”
When the horses retreated, Cheyenne turned back to Robert, pressing his soft muzzle to Robert’s head, breathing in and out, until Robert’s breathing matched his own.
Eventually, as mysteriously as he came, Cheyenne trotted back to the pasture. I looked at my watch and saw 45 minutes had gone by. Robert lifted his head. There were tears in his eyes. “Are you all right?” I said.
“I feel good,” he said. I could hear the wonder in my husband’s voice. “Better than in a long time.” He got onto his feet. “It’s as if a thousand-pound weight’s off my shoulders!”
Could the touch of a horse make that much of a difference? I wouldn’t have believed it, but Robert’s good feeling lasted long after we returned to the farm.
“Things are different now,” Robert explained, searching for the words. “The last few years I’ve felt attacked from all sides. But when Cheyenne was with me I felt–no, I knew–God was taking care of me. I still know. I’m under his protection.”
At our next visit to the doctor, we learned Robert’s blood pressure had dropped. By then we had made walks to the pasture a regular part of our lives. Cheyenne has never repeated his uncanny behavior from that day on the hill.
Still Robert and I discovered that just being with the horses gave us a feeling of reassurance. We knew we were cared for and found renewed strength in that knowledge.
Our troubles weren’t over, of course. But they no longer obscured the love we had for our farm. I didn’t look out the window and see inspections to pass and renovations to pay for. I saw the land my family loved, the land that gave us comfort even when life seemed against us.
A small paint horse had brought us a message: God watched over us just as he watched over the horses in the field, offering the strength of his love when our own strength waned.
Now that I was feeling that strength and love on the land my family and the horses called home made everything worth it.
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