Our nature and the horse’s nature are very different, and it is important that we understand this difference. This is basic and fundamental. I’m not talking about predator/prey—I’m talking about the horse’s nature being pure and honest while our nature is broken and depraved. The prophet Jeremiah describes our nature like this, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Ray Hunt expressed it this way:
“There is no way that the horse will ever try to take advantage of you. He’s as honest and as truthful as anything you could ever work with. He has no ego that gets in his way. He has no pride that gets in his way. He doesn’t know what win or lose is. And those are the four things that get in the human’s way. It’s very sad. All the horse is trying to do is survive; he’s trying to make it. So I try to work with him like he was me, just like I hope he would work with me.”
Our Self-Preservation Instinct
Pride and ego, Ray says they get in the human’s way. That is putting it mildly. Just like the horse, we have a self-preservation instinct to protect us when our lives are in danger—so we can react quicker, fight harder, or run faster when we need to to save our lives. But the problem is our self-preservation gets hijacked by our ego. When our pride gets hurt, to our ego, it is a matter of life and death. Have you seen someone willing to fight to the death to keep from looking bad? Have you seen that person in the mirror?
There is an ancient Hebrew story about Balaam and his donkey that illustrates this point.
Balaam was on a journey with his donkey and God sent an angel to oppose him. Balaam didn’t see the angel, but the donkey did, and the donkey saved Balaam’s life three times. The first time the donkey left the road and went out into a field to avoid the angel, and Balaam hit the donkey with his stick. The second time the donkey squeezed up against a stone wall squishing Balaam’s foot, and Balaam hit the donkey with his stick again. The third time the donkey saved Balaam’s life, there was no way to go around the angel, so the donkey laid down, and Balaam hit the donkey with his stick again.
Then God allowed the donkey to speak and the donkey asked Balaam why he had hit him with the stick.
Balaam said to the donkey, “You made me look like a fool; I wish there were a sword in my hand, so I could kill you.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that most of what we punish our horses for is injuring our pride.
Dealing with our Pride
How do we get to the place where our pride and ego don’t get in our way? Consider A. W. Tozer’s discussion of this issue on page 112 of his book The Pursuit of God.
The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol.
How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest.
Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.
Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear…, and meekness is [the] method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.
I heard a great quote a while back, “If we think in terms of our horse being bad, that opens us up to the concept of punishment. If we think in terms of our horse having difficulty, that predisposes us to the concept of helping our horse through the difficulty.”
How do we get there? We loosen the grip our ego has on our self-preservation every time we say, “I was wrong.” How many times each day can you honestly say, “I was wrong”?