After her photo session was finished, she said, “Jamie, I want to show you this horse.” Four years earlier, I was in Brittany’s barn and had watched her Shire horse sauntering in. It was like a cinematic slow-motion scene unfolding before me. She swung around and stood facing me. Like a magnet, my hand was drawn beneath the thick mane that covered her broad neck. In a downward motion, my fingers trailed across her soft black coat. A silent prayer burst from my heart, “Lord, I want a horse like this.” And now, four years later, I was looking into the eyes of that answered prayer. This dream of owning a horse planted deep within me from before birth was drawn to the surface by divine will.
I was in the midst of a raging storm when my dream appeared. We had just lost our home and were living in a borrowed thirty-three-foot travel trailer behind our church. My twelve-year-old daughter had just made the decision to live with her unsaved biological father. She was conceived before I came into the church. My godly husband had raised her as his own, but she chose to leave.
I was drowning in sorrow, shame, and rejection, but I didn’t blame God for the losses. The most liberating thing in the world—besides the Holy Ghost—is in taking responsibility for your own decisions. And in realizing that everyone has free will. I had to own my own choices, and my daughter had to own hers.
In my misery, I was looking for a place to fall apart, but God had something better for me.
God has a lot of good ideas to bring you up and out of darkness and in my case, it was a horse. I named him Fallon. This one-thousand-pound yearling had barely been touched by human hands. How was I going to train him from the ground up?
My horse trainer, David Lee Archer, said: “Put a foundation on the horse and when this is done right, everything else falls into place.” My tool kit was a halter, lead rope, and a neon orange lunge whip with a plastic grocery bag tied to its end. First, I had to get control of the horse’s feet. If you don’t control his feet, the horse will become the leader. I had to establish my leadership; he had to learn to be led.
The training process was daunting. He was being desensitized with brushes, blue tarps covering him entirely, spray bottles, and popping umbrellas. I even rode a bicycle around the pasture to familiarize him with what he would face. Groundwork is the most important part of training, and without it, you won’t have a solid horse.
Fallon eventually became so sensitive to my leading that we moved as one. My voice became familiar to him, and even the slightest whisper would turn him. We worked on his softness with a powerful training technique known as pressure and release. I would apply pressure to him and when he would give into it, I would release the pressure. This method forms a bond of woven trust between horse and rider.
One day after a heavy rain, I led him to a low-lying pasture which resembled a miniature lake. Horses aren’t fond of water because of their depth perception and natural flight instinct. They don’t like feeling trapped. Stepping into the cloudy body of water, I made my way to the middle with Fallon in tow. Just as his right hoof hit the edge of the water, he began to avoid it like the plague. He began dancing, and side stepping until he had navigated the entire circumference of the “lake.” We regrouped and tried again. This time when he made his way to the edge, he planted his feet and wouldn’t budge an inch. I felt like I was pulling a freight train. Our wills battled with one another until he realized that I wasn’t giving up. Suddenly, his cement stance broke, his eyes softened, and his proud, high head descended. And he finally submitted his will to me. He took a step toward me, the lead rope falling in a soft downward curve, and he calmly followed me to solid, dry ground.
I met Fallon with an exuberant uproar of squeals, vivacious pats to his thick neck, and told him “good boy” a million times. He licked his lips and let out a deep-seated sigh of relaxation. Immediately a huge lump came up in my throat and tears began streaming down my face.
In that moment, God spoke to me and said: “Jamie, that is you. If you will just trust me, I will lead you safely through the unknown. I know what is in the water. I know it’s depth. I will never lead you into something that will destroy you. If you will learn to follow my leading, every situation will result in you becoming better and stronger. I will guide you safely to the other side of whatever you face for the rest of your life.” And in that moment, both Fallon and I walked away with the firmest of foundations beneath us.
It doesn’t matter where you are in life. The turning of a calendar year doesn’t promise change or liberty. You are made free where you stand if your foundation is in Jesus Christ.
Follow the Master. He knows the way.
Jamie Johnson and her husband, MyRick, pastor in Humble, Texas. She is an experienced horse trainer and portrait photographer. Jamie enjoys road trips, polo, her dog, Georgiana, and eating fried pies from Flying J with her daughters, Adrian and Bailey.