I remember so well the first day I saw her. It was in the summer after the seventh grade. Our family had been living in California during the war while Daddy was stationed at Pearl Harbor. During this time I got my first horse, Sox, which we kept in a stall behind the garage. My life was devoted to caring for Sox. But we moved back to Birmingham when Daddy’s tour of duty in the Navy was over. I sadly had to leave Sox behind. Back M Birmingham I hung out at the riding stable where my best friend Susu boarded her horse. One Saturday afternoon when I was at the barn with Susu some neighbors rode their horses over to use the riding ring. The man was riding a gorgeous big red chestnut gelding named Dandy Dick. He was a lot of horse and was not fully cooperating, but I was awed at his beauty. The lady was riding a feminine version of the big red horse. She was a dainty chestnut mare with the “look of eagles” in her eyes. This was my first real encounter with the American Saddlebred horse and :1 was deeply stirred. They were quite a step up from the rental horses I was used to or even my Calvary bred Sox. Their size, satiny coats, and their beautiful and spirited expression captured my heart. I went home deeply desiring a horse like these.
Sometime later, a large picture of the lady riding the same mare appeared on the front page of the Society section of the Sunday Paper and I found out that the beautiful mare was named Madam Stark. I carried this picture around for months, maybe even a year. I slept with it under my pillow at night. Madam dominated my thoughts. I had no hopes of owning this mare. I understood that we had no place to keep a horse and just could not have one now.
Then one day my understanding, but unhorse wise, parents took me to a farm in Calera, Alabama that belonged to a friend of Daddy’s. They told me that their friends who owned the farm had a horse for me to ride. Eagerly I made the trip to Calera with my mother. We walked into the attractive stable and to the stall of the horse I was to ride. I looked in the stall and instead of just an ordinary horse as I was expecting was the beautiful red Saddlebred mare that I had ridden in my dreams every night, even as her picture lay under my pillow. Confused, I thought Daddy’s friends had bought her and I was shaken. Then my unselfish mother said, “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday again!” It turned out that Mother had given up her offer of a new fur coat to buy me the darling of my heart! I just couldn’t take it all in that Madam Stark belonged to me!
That day a tumultuous friendship that lasted until my children were born began between a little girl and a high-strung mare. Little did my parents suspect the traumatic days that lay ahead.
I learned to ride Madam that summer. In modern terms she was like a high-powered sports car in comparison to a Volkswagen bug to any of the other horses I had ever ridden. And, I had no teacher. She was quick as lightning and super responsive to the least signal from me or the things that she perceived as danger to her eagle gaze. She never missed a thing. In our later days (after I had learned to ride her) she was as game as they come and on our trail rides my fiend’s apparently calmer horse often didn’t have the heart to make it over the treacherous mountains and other wild places which our parents had no idea we were exploring. But Madam never balked at anything and when I had to leave her standing in treacherous places to go and encourage the gentler horses, she stood like a statue until I came back to her. Every time I asked her to tackle anything she gave it all she had and then some.
However at the first, she was so much more horse than I was ready for at the time my unsuspecting parents bought ‘her. I was not the experienced trainer that a spirited horse needs. Rather she was training me to her own likings. So, on the early days of our association she acquired a very nasty habit of rearing on her hind legs when she wanted to do a different thing than I did. Learning that her rearing got her way, it became even more dangerous as she would stand up so straight on her bind legs that I would fear loosing my balance and falling backward on the reins, thus pulling her over onto her back and me. One time this feared scenario happened. I did not get out of the way quickly enough and her thousand pounds of muscle came crashing down on top of me. An ambulance carried me away to the hospital to discover that I had a broken pelvis. This required months of bed rest flat on my back with the foot of the bed slightly higher than the head.
During this time I missed the last semester of the eighth grade, but was allowed to graduate from grammar school anyway. During my convalescence my adult visitors would inevitably say, “I bet you will never get on that horse again!” I passed it off fully believing nothing could ever make me afraid of a horse. Finally, I was able to go and see Madame again, and I was so excited. ‘But, when I first put my hand on her shiny coat, the most unexpected thing happened – a terrible fear enveloped me! It was so awful that I envisioned skulls and blood and all sorts of grotesque things I had never thought of before.
My pride would never let me admit this fear to anyone. A super horsewoman was what I thought of myself and I couldn’t let anyone know my terrible secret! So gradually I forced myself to face the perceived dangers that I feared. I blamed the slowness of my actual riding her on my healing body, but I was inwardly dreading the thought of getting on her back again. In fact, just leading her was fearful. But eventually I faced my fears and began riding her again. It wasn’t long before she remembered her trick and I knew that if I didn’t conquer her, then I would have to face up to something that I dreaded. even more – having to give her up and let the world know of my shameful fear. Oh! How proud I was!
I know now what I didn’t know then, although I instinctively understood the principle: If Madame won she would be worthless – a rebellious and dangerous horse. And, I would be a failure as a horsewoman.
When the heavenly Father created all things he gave to man the dominion over the creation. The creatures and resources of the earth were for us to use, to care for, and to manage for our mutual good. The creation was to work in harmony with man. The animals were to serve man, and Proverbs tells us that a good man considers the needs of his beasts. The strictest laws of the Jewish laws in the Old Testament Sabbath provides for the care of the ox. A rebellious horse was not a good thing. It was definitely against the Father’s plan as it was good for nothing. A horse was designed and bred for many purposes: some for speed, some for great strength in pulling things, some for working cattle, some for jumping, and some for the advanced disciplines in many fields. To develop the horses for talents to the finest pitch involves a perfect union between horse and rider, as in a symphony or ballet. The horse must be completely submissive and willing to give every thing he has to the subtlest commands of the rider’s hands on the reins and the least movement of his body. To be really successful the horse must love his work. This can come about only with the careful training of a good horseman who understands a particular horse’s personality and its physical endowments. The trainer has to learn just what the horse can do mentally and physically, and then set about training it by degrees until there is complete unity between them. As no horse or rider stays trained forever, it is the constant tuning of the relationship between the horse and rider that allows the best in each to arise. Only then can we see the beautiful ballet that can be exhibited in any of the several horse disciplines when horse and rider move in perfect harmony as if directed by one mind as indeed they are – the mind of the horse perfectly yielded to the mind of the rider. What a picture this is of the way God created man to function with Himself. This is what we were created for, this perfect unity. Us rising to the peak of our abilities as we live completely submitted to His every direction. This is what the Bible is about It is the manufacturer’s handbook for the product – man and the world we have been given dominion over.
So, I planned my attack. I put her halter on over her bridle with a long rope attached. Around my waist I wrapped a rawhide bullwhip Daddy had bought me in Mexico. I mounted, holding the long rope attached to her halter with the reins. It wasn’t long before she refused to go where I asked. her to and threatened to rear to get her way, Immediately I jumped off of her holding the long halter rope. With the other hand I grabbed the bullwhip around my waist and started swinging the whip at her front legs. She reared and lunged pulling me all over the paddock, but at every lunge I got in another cut on her legs with the whip. My rope arm and my whip arm were killing me, but I knew that I had to win or I would loose this battle forever. Finally, when I felt like I didn’t have enough strength to swing the whip one more time the most amazing thing-happened: the mare came toward me even as I was attacking her and ‘laid her head on my chest signaling her complete submission. From that time on she never reared again.
In later years when the God I loved so much was trying to show me the error of my ways, it seemed like He was pursuing me with a bull whip as all the props in my life were being pulled out. I questioned the reason that I was born and the meaning of good, feeling like everything I counted well in life He counted badly and He proceeded to lay the whip against me. There came a dramatic moment when I saw, through the book of Job, that I had been calling the shots as if I were God. I was trying to rule my universe; I had set my heart on my own way and refused to bow to Him, the only wise God. Finally the light dawned in my own heart as it had dawned in Madame’s heart years before: I must cast myself totally on the mercy of the one who indeed was my Master, and because he loved me so much, was trying to show me His purpose for me in the only way that I could ever be made to see. His plan for me was to be what he had created me to be which was the only way I could find true happiness. It was just the same as my plan for Madame. She was created to submit to me, her loving, adoring master in order to fulfill the reason for her creation.