Learning Freedom written by Founder and Executive Director, Carissa Ramsdell The day we get to let horses that have completed the majority of their weight gain rehab out into the pasture is always an exciting one. It’s a big milestone for that horse: they get to experience the freedom of feeling strong enough to enjoy what they were born to do… RUN! Earlier this month it was Redemption, “Remi's" turn. Just over two months of weight gain and foot rehab, along with some intentional introducing to the other horses that he would share pasture with over the past few weeks led to this moment. We opened the barn gate, then opened the stall door and invited him to come out. He awkwardly flung those silly feet in all directions indicating not sure whether to hit the stride his breed is known for or gallop. We burst out laughing. Awkward as it was, it was certainly enjoyable to watch. He ran about 200 feet away from the barn into his new beautiful and spacious pasture, took one look around, and then galloped as fast as he could back to the barn. Several of us exchanged glances “maybe he just isn’t sure where to go”. But what proceeded to happen next broke our hearts.Instead of returning to the freedom of his new pasture, he frantically made every attempt to get back into his stall and the space he had known for the past two months. He paced back and forth in front of the barn with wide eyes and heavy breathing. After a few minutes, we decided to let him back in and he ran strait into his stall, turned and faced the door, lowered his head, and sighed. I walked in, rubbed his forehead and quietly assured him “we’ll try again another day”. He went to happily munching on his hay. A couple days later, after he and the rest of the horses had their daily meal, we were going to try again. This time, we made sure all of the horses who shared his pasture were nearby- perhaps he thought he was alone in that pasture before. We also brought his stall buddy with him into the pasture. Friends always make us more confident, right? Like watching a rerun of a film, he ran out with his clunky adorable gait, and had an uneventful meetup with his new pasture-mates only to return about 60 seconds later and repeat the same panicked gallop back to the barn from the day prior. We decided to try to comfort him, to no avail. We were merely road blocks on his path which he went around and in a few cases almost blindly ran over in his desperate attempt to get back into his stall. He even ran up the steep rock ledge to the immediate south of the barn, through a strand of electrobraid (electric fence), around to the back of the barn to proceed to let himself in a barricaded back door. Once in his stall, he again turned, faced the door, immediately relaxed, and resumed eating. Attempt three was to try to distract him with his feed and beautiful green alfalfa (horse chocolate!) in a paddock with his a pasture friend and his stall buddy where he couldn’t get to the barn. It resulted in hours of relentless pacing and him working himself up so much that in 40 degrees he was lathered and dripping sweat and quivering from fear. We decided that he wasn’t going to stop pacing and decided to bring him back to the barn. We hosed him off and covered him with some warm wool blankets to keep him warm as he dried, and put medicine on his legs where when pacing he slipped and scraped them on the wooden fence. He stayed in his stall with the door wide open, contently munching on hay while we watched in complete disbelief. Why was this horse so terrified of being outside of the confines of his stall? Literally every other horse I know would much prefer the freedom of the pasture and the room to stretch their legs with their friends. Or at the very least, the temptation of green grass and delicious alfalfa and a horse’s innate desire to eat would override any uneasyness he may feel about his new surroundings for a short time. Nothing and no one could convince Remi that anywhere but his stall was where he belonged and where he was safe. It was in pondering what to do for him when the Holy Spirit dropped the parallel of Remi’s story to life in Jesus with the weight of an anvil: how often do we choose to remain in the confines of what we determine is safe because the invitation to freedom is too frightening? too overwhelming? not comfortable or familiar? or just simply “too much”?I imagine the main reason Remi’s instinct to get back to his tiny 12x12 stall is because it’s the first time in a long time (and maybe in his life) that he’s known the comforts, or moreso necessities, needed to survive along with all the comforts of what is provided for him. Before law enforcement stepped in to secure his rescue he was left to fend for himself in a fenced prison of rocky, weed-covered land lacking any supplemental hay or feed, vet or farrier care (likely resulting in pain), and watched his only pasture-mate succumb to the neglect of his former owner, with the carcass carelessly left to rot. Then one day he is picked up, handled with soft hands, and brought to Freedom Reigns Ranch. Given vet care, have his feet trimmed, and slowly begin the process of reintroducing nutrition to his body with carefully portioned rations every few hours around the clock. His body started to know strength, he learned comfort from the scratches of volunteers in all his favorite spots, care in the form of treating wounds and his skin infection, and then over a month in he finally learned rest when he felt comfortable enough to lay down and sleep for the first time since arriving. He was able to experience the at-one-point-familiar taste of grass again as we took him on short walks to help build up some muscle once the nutrition intake was stabilized. Once out of quarantine, he got to nuzzle other horses who would soon be his pasturemates: many of whom also had a shared history of neglect.He was rescued, and his body healed. But his mind still remains trapped in the trauma of what he experienced.
We’ve realized that the best thing we can do to help Remi overcome his trauma is to take micro steps with him that will allow him to gain confidence while asking him to step outside of his comfort zone in short amounts of time and reward him for his willingness to trust us in the process. This week that has looked like moving him one stall over to share the outside stall wall with the pasture and switching his stall buddy to Remi’s old middle stall. For the first hour in the new stall, he relentlessly paced and spun circles and reached his head over the top of the 5 1/2 foot divider to try to get into his middle stall to the point that he choked himself. To help him we took out the top foot of division which allowed him to look into the middle stall, and nuzzle his stall buddy, with ease. He stood there the entire night with his head hanging over the divider but by mid way through the next day had relaxed into his new- identical- stall.
We also started feeding him just outside of his stall and putting him back in once he as finished to help him realize that his feed will be available outside just as much as it is inside. Our next step will be to actually remove the outer wall of the stall that divides it from the pasture area to allow him to stand in the stall he is growing accustomed to, undivided from the pasture. And our hope is that in doing so, he will finally realize that we’re not going anywhere, that he will always have enough to eat, and that being a horse and using those legs to run and move the way God created him to will ultimately lead to him being much healthier and happier than living his life in the confinement of a 12x12 box. I don’t know what it is going to require for Remi to be fully confident being out in a pasture, grazing, and with the freedom to run like God designed him to do. Perhaps I’m sharing this story a bit premature, but I think in that way the invitation to step out in freedom and trust God is also similar…we don’t know the end, we don’t know what it will require, and we don’t know just how much freedom there is or how long it will take to explore or what it will require to be comfortable in the new areas in which we find ourselves when we pursue Jesus… maybe we will never be comfortable. But maybe that’s just it? If we get comfortable, we learn to rely on ourselves and not the One who understands every inch of that vastness to explore. My encouragement to you is to allow God to show you areas where He has given you freedom or created you for something different, but where you choose to remain in the confines of your own comfort out of fear. What are the areas you’re not trusting Him to provide? What are the areas of past trauma that cause you to retreat out of fear and what can you do to continue to work through those to experience the freedom He has for you? Allow Him to show you those small, compassion-filled steps that He wants to help you walk through that will lead to a much healthier and fulfilling life in Him.