As a kid, I went to an equine-focused, faith-based summer camp. I recall that place as being one of the only completely safe places I knew. I liked who I was there. Growing up, I faced some traumatic circumstances which caused me to see the world outside the camp through fearful eyes.
Due to summer jobs and now college, I haven’t been to camp in ten years and I thought that horses were behind me, until I met Carissa at a convocation at Belmont University. I was blown away by her story and, although it took me several months to get out there due to various roadblocks and, frankly, a fear of commitment, I finally started volunteering with our group mentorship program for teen/tween girls. The horses needed to be groomed one afternoon, so I chose to spend time with them and get to know them. I caught each horse, one by one, and sang them my favorite hymns from my childhood. I sang my favorite to Freedom, this is the same hymn I used to sing to the horses at the camp quite a bit as a kid, and then to myself through my recovery: Pilgrim on earth, home and heaven are within thee, Heir of the ages and child of the day. Cared for, watched over, beloved and protected, Walk thou with courage each step of the way.
Truthful and steadfast though trials betide thee, Ever one thing do thou ask of thy Lord, Grace to go forward, wherever He guide thee, Gladly obeying the call of His word.
Healed is thy hardness, His love hath dissolved it, Full is the promise, the blessing how kind; So shall His tenderness teach thee compassion, So all the merciful, mercy shall find. The last verse has been close to my heart lately, as it reflects the power of forgiveness and compassion.
During our twice-a-month “horse class” for volunteers (where we get to spend some time developing our own horsemanship and riding skills) Carissa asked if anyone was feeling calm and confident. I, who am typically neither of those things, naturally raised my hand. She told me I was riding Freedom, which filled me with the strangest mixture of panic and absolute excitement. Because few people have ridden Freedom, as he was still very green, Carissa prepared me for anything that could possibly go wrong. She also made it clear that the main thing he responds to is a deep breath out and gentle leading. With that in mind, I mounted Freedom and let out my first of many huge exhales. Freedom was attentive and aware and didn’t seem uncomfortable or scared. I knew a small amount about his story and could help but be blown away at how willing he was to give his heart despite not being shown enough love in the past. The first thing I began to notice was that this horse fiercely wanted to be a good riding horse, but he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. He took my guidance so well and didn’t fight against my leading. It took everything in me to hold back tears as he let me walk, trot, and turn on him with little to no difficulty. I was blown away by the amount of trust he had in me.
The next week, we decided to put a couple of Junior Volunteers, with leading, on Freedom. I walked each of them through everything that Carissa had told me, stay calm and collected. I tried to keep my own nerves under control as I led him around the arena with the girls on his back. I genuinely think I saw him smiling a little bit. At one point, I explained to the girls that he wants to do well but that he needs a little guidance. The girl riding him said, “I feel that way about school.” We talked about how it helps her more when her teacher guides her through something when she misunderstands rather than reprimanding her for misunderstanding. I saw some of the most high-energy girls become extremely attentive and calm on Freedom. After a while, they each got to ride him on their own and they worked beautifully with him independent of me holding a lead. Freedom does two incredibly valuable things for those who come in contact with him: He requires people to focus and breathe deeply, practicing patience and persistence, and he shows us that despite how we have been treated in the past or the hardships we have survived, we are still allowed to love and trust people. Freedom, a trauma survivor himself, shows us that God’s love is limitless and we lose nothing by passing it on to those around us.