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Strong and Courageous

“This is my command- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“One of the greatest blessings of being a session leader at Freedom Reigns is experiencing a breakthrough moment with your precious participant. Witnessing their courage reign victorious over their fears and doubts fills your heart and spirit with overflowing joy and excitement!

Ellie* was very hesitant to ride when she first came to the ranch. Her previous experience with riding had left her anxious and uncertain about whether she wanted to try it again that day. She was very excited to meet our horses and showed such compassion and love for them as she introduced herself and heard their individual stories of how they triumphed over their circumstances and became our beloved session horses. I assured her that it was completely ok if she chose not to ride and we had lots of other fun things to do at the Ranch. I promised we would never pressure her to do anything she was uncomfortable with and that our great team of Ranch Assistants (RA’s) and Leaders were there for her.

Ellie was “all in” for having fun and getting to know our horses. After lots of grooming and growing comfortable with her horse, Bronson, she began leading him around the arena and eventually said she would like to try riding. She bravely got one foot in the stirrup and just before the final mount into the saddle, she felt uneasy and decided she couldn’t do it just yet. Tears fell in disappointment but she was able to quickly shake off being upset after some hugs and encouragement that it was totally ok and just making the attempt was a huge step and was very brave. She left with lots of smiles looking forward to her next visit.

For our next session, Ellie decided to take the pressure off and give herself grace by not attempting to ride so she had lots of time for grooming and loving on the horses as she got to know them better. I think it helped to build trust with me and horses knowing that she could make decisions about what felt comfortable and fun for the evening. Sometimes lowering our expectations and enjoying simplicity gives way to new opportunities.

On her next visit, she jumped out of the car with her helmet on and joyfully announced, “I’m riding today!” She had apparently been thinking about it throughout the week and had made up her mind to conquer any lingering anxiety or fears. It was apparent that she had already won the battle over the many thoughts and feelings that tried to restrain her from persevering and achieving her goal! Her actions reminded me that so many of our battles can be lost or won in our minds, and that we need to be vigilant to keep renewing our minds with God’s Word which teaches us how to replace our “stinking thinking” with His way of thinking and how to be able to see ourselves the way He sees us- victorious.

She groomed and tacked up our faithful horse, Bronson, and led him around the arena getting comfortable with groundwork before making the journey into the saddle. I told her whenever she was ready, we would go to the mounting block and she could climb into the saddle. Without hesitation, she said ‘I’m ready.’ and courageously marched up the steps. At the top of the steps her brave heart skipped a beat as the gap from steps to saddle felt impossibly wide. Clutching my hand, we started small by reaching out and petting Bronson’s neck and touching the saddle. Two RA’s gathered around Bronson to give her extra support and encouragement. With a deep breath, she threw her leg over and was on! Shouts of victory erupted around the arena from RA’s, Leaders, and watching parents! Ellie smiled from ear to ear with fists in the air and kept repeating, “I did it! I did it! I can’t believe it, I did it!” I had been certain she would succeed given her determination and courage to try. Celebratory hugs were given to everyone as lots of cheers, and excitement abounded across the ranch! The session ended with conversation about how brave and courageous she had been. She was “strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). She said she was like the lion in the Wizard of Oz who found his courage, which he had all along.

Her next session triumphed all! She bravely rode our enormous draft horse, Buddy! He intimidates most people just standing near him on the ground because of his huge size but he is a gentle giant even though he towers above us all. It took a few deep breaths and solid determination, but Ellie stared any doubt or fear in the face and said, “Not today!!” as she climbed into the saddle and rode her victory laps with great pride and joy! Breakthrough is a beautiful thing to witness! Praise God for His faithfulness.”

Devo written by Debbie Simmons, Volunteer Session Leader

*Names are changed to protect identities

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