By Jean Oman, Co-Founder
What a gift God gave to mankind when He created the equine. We could never begin to repay these amazing creatures for the multitude of ways they have served us for millennia.
When Star arrived at Cypress Swamp Ranch Jaxson’s Place, his future was uncertain. The handsome quarter horse had belonged to a young girl whose parents purchased him for her so that she could competitively ride him and both could bond, learn to work and play together. There are few things on earth more beautiful than a girl and her horse, working together in harmony!
Along the journey, Star had been sent off to a “professional” trainer who was supposed to teach him how to improve in several types of riding styles, including dressage and western. He was a very smart horse and a sensitive one as well. His greatest desire was to please his young rider, but as horses are, he was quite independent-spirited and sometimes stubborn when he did not want to do something. It seemed like the best thing to do to send him to an expert who could guide and bring out his highest potential.
Horses have to know that they are being respected in order to give respect in return, interacting with humans in much the same way that we expect to be treated by one another. This is why they are such great teachers when parents need a model for child rearing, because there are so many parallels. When mistreated physically, they become rebellious and noncompliant, even angry, scared and possibly dangerous, as the “fight or flight” instincts placed in them by their Creator, automatically kick in. This “professional” used brute force on Star, effectively shutting down any learning ability this horse might display. Sounds a lot like the reaction of a child, when a parent or teacher attempts to instruct them in a harsh manner, doesn’t it?
After a dangerous episode when the trainer was thrown off Star, he became enraged, demanding that Star’s owners take him back immediately. The advice given for Star’s future was, “send him to the glue factory – he is worthless – a piece of garbage!”
What are parents to do when an expert says something like this about a beloved pet? How do you tell your daughter who is in love with this horse that he has now been determined to be “worthless” and, in fact, dangerous. Doc and Sue definitely would not let their daughter get back in the saddle, now that Star had proven that he would not let anyone ride him. He actually shook with fear when a saddle was placed on his back, or he was approached with a training stick or rope. Is it true that when a horse reaches this point, he is not “fixable?” Delaney was distraught, because she loved her horse deeply, and could not bear the thought of any harm coming to this sensitive and kind animal with a huge, albeit now fearful heart.
A desperate plea went out among Doc’s colleagues, seeking any advice about what to do with Star, hoping that someone could help. A rumble of concern ran through the co-workers, including concern about Delaney, her love for her horse, as well as for her safety, should she decide to ignore the “expert” and attempt to continue to ride Star. On the flipside, what could be done for this poor animal, who, through no fault of his own, had ended up in this potentially fatal situation? Was there a solution, or was putting him down the only answer?
God truly works in mysterious ways, His wonders to display. As word traveled through the hospital where Doc worked, one of the nurses shared a ray of hope. Though she had never been to Cypress Swamp Ranch Jaxson’s Place, she knew of this Ranch, and suggested to the worried parents that perhaps Star could be sent to CSRJP to live out his days, rather than being sentenced to death at the “glue factory.”
Many people view horse rescue organizations like ours, as a place for unwanted animals to be put out to pasture, never to be ridden again. Many do indeed provide sanctuary for animals who are no longer able to be used for riding or work, allowing them to live out their days in comfort and safety. When CSRJP is directly asked to adopt a horse, we take the request very seriously, because the primary purpose for this Ranch is to help hurting human hearts through the healed horses who live here. We must consider our resources, because from an economic standpoint, this is another “mouth to feed” and required care is expensive. Up to this point, we have not been a “rest stop” for animals to pass through to another destination, but CSRJP has been the final home for those who have had to fear for their lives or the possibility of being abandoned. We cannot take in every animal which people request us to, and we must consider how each would fit into our program as well as the dynamics of the entire herd. We do pray fervently over the fate of each animal that comes our way, especially those we feel God is leading us to add into our “family” here.
Doc and I had a lengthy conversation during which I asked him (begged really!) – if CSRJP could board Star for a few months, at no cost to them, and allow John to work his natural horsemanship miracles here. Doc and Sue now had little if any trust in trainers, after having sent Star to someone who had been so highly recommended, and experiencing such a terrible outcome. They had no desire for a repeat experience or worse. It was completely understandable.
I heard myself promising Doc that John and I would come visit Star at their home to evaluate him. Were those words actually coming out of my mouth? There was no explanation why, because John and I had some months earlier decided that we absolutely could not add to the number of horses here in the foreseeable future – a decision to which our Board heartily agreed. The funds we were personally contributing to the Ranch operation each month were overwhelming as it was. Still, there was that compelling belief in our hearts that we needed to at least go meet him and kiss his sweet nose, before his possibly mortal fate was decided.
John took a rope halter, lead rope and carrot stick along on that visit, not even sure if he would be able to touch or get near this horse. Star was definitely scared, but compliant, and although afraid of anything resembling a “stick,” he quickly realized that he could trust this gentle stranger who did not offer to hit him with it, but merely used it as an extension of his arm. After working with Star for a brief time, we both had the quiet assurance that he would be coming to CSRJP to live. We told the parents that we would take Star from them on one condition; Delaney must come to visit him as often as she could. The family eagerly agreed to this condition, and arrangements were made for him to be delivered to the Ranch.
After his arrival, John worked with Star almost daily for several months, using a firm but gentle hand of love, language and leadership. At first, Star was clearly afraid and skittish. He refused to allow any weight to be placed on his back. If a blanket or saddle was put on, it was immediately bucked off with his eyes ablaze in anger and fear. John began to give Star “hugs” across his back, which were initially met with mistrust and stepping away. As time went by, Star realized that he was safe and it was his decision to accept that contact, briefly at first, then for longer periods of time. We were seeing progress and hope, fueled by mutual respect and trust.
Jada was a regular visitor to the Ranch, and had formed an instant bond with Star. He always looked forward to her visits, and knew that when she was here, she would pet and talk softly to him. This frightened animal was truly beginning to believe in love again.
When asked, Jada bravely agreed that she would attempt to sit on Star, at the ready to immediately dismount if there was any sign of trouble. To everyone’s amazement, at that first session, Star, although very afraid at first, allowed her to sit on him and to be led around the Ranch! This was done on several occasions, never making him feel like he was being pushed into doing something he did not want to do. Before long, Star would let anyone ride him, thanks to the gentleness that Jada demonstrated to him.
Doc, Sue and Delaney, had indeed come to the Ranch to visit Star. The family was relieved that he was happy and doing so well. He had work to do (very important to a horse), not what they had originally planned for him to be doing, but he was now working with children and adults who needed to experience the restoration of healing and trust of their own. Star had not lost his life, nor had he been cast out as worthless. He was valued and worthy and was teaching this lesson to people who had formerly felt that way about themselves! This warmed their hearts!
Fast-forward to November 2, 2013, the 2nd Annual CSRJP Fall Celebration. Star had been here at the Ranch for about 15 months and had safely been ridden by many individuals for about a year. 175 people attended the Fall Celebration that day. Sue and Delaney were here as volunteers. Six of the Ranch horses, including Star, had been saddled up, to give “pony rides.”* Sue became aware of a young girl who wanted to ride a horse but was obviously very scared to do so. After all, they are very large animals! Sue listened to God’s prompting in her spirit, and asked Samantha if she would like to ride Star. Shaking, Samantha said that she really wanted to ride, but she was very afraid. At first she was too terrified to sit on the saddle, and it took some coaxing to get her to put on a helmet and climb the steps of the mounting block. After some time and patience, Samantha eventually did saddle-up and was led around on Star’s back. This was miraculous on several different levels! Star, who had just a short time earlier been unrideable, was now being ridden, led by the mother of the girl who had to give him up, because she was told that her own daughter would be thrown off and injured if she rode this horse. This is where the healing of horse and human heart truly began!
As the Fall Celebration time drew to a close, Samantha would ride no other horse but Star, and would not be assisted by anyone else but Sue! Samantha’s family marveled at the transformation they saw taking place in their own child, as Sue and Delaney were awestruck at how gentle and patient Star was with this formerly terrified child, who was now developing a huge confidence of her own – all four of them were! God was sharing a huge miracle and the bigger picture was just beginning to unfold!
We have verbally shared the story of that experience over the past year with countless people. In our small minds, we did not think that Star’s story could get any more amazing. Question - why do I limit God in my mind? I do believe that He can do anything. He was about to explode on the scene to make that fact abundantly clear to me and everyone present!
Fast forward again - 3rd Fall Celebration, September 27, 2014. It had been two years and one month after Star’s re-homing to CSRJP. We were blessed to meet a precious young college-aged lady named Sara, who was wheelchair-bound. Sweet Sara was brought to the Fall Celebration by our mutual friends and frequent Ranch volunteers, Ashley and Brandon. They wanted to share the Ranch with Sara, and knew that she would enjoy being outside in the fresh air, to see the crafts, vendors, and maybe even pet the horses. 202 guests were moving around to the food, crafts, and games, some grooming the miniature horses and others standing in line to ride the big horses. Sara was enjoying the time, as her devoted friends wheeled her from place to place on the Ranch, and friendly faces shared the day with her. Her smile, beauty and grace was contagious! Yet, no one even thought about asking her if she would like to ride one of the big horses. How small-minded we all were. Except one, who was listening to God’s prompting in his heart…
The Fall Celebration was winding down. Vendors were packing up their booths, getting into their vehicles and leaving the Ranch. The DJ was still playing festive music, but everything was taking on a tone of completion. I was doing my best to talk to everyone I could, on an individual basis, about the Ranch, our purpose here and what I know that God desires to do in this place. All the while, I wondered if those who had come here really got it about the mission and ministry of CSRJP. I could feel my mouth moving, and could hear words coming out, but did I really know what I was talking about? I was just about to be humbled to the core…
Sue came over to me and quietly asked if she could draw me away for a few minutes to the round pen in order to witness an event that was about to unfold. I knew that for her to politely call me out of my conversation, it had to be important, so I walked the short distance to the round pen with her. I was not prepared for what I saw taking place.
Her husband, Doc, was lifting Sara onto Star’s back – side-saddle style. He had asked her if she would like to ride a horse, and he just happened to have the perfect steed in mind! Sara had been outfitted with the required riding helmet and was making final adjustments for her comfort in the saddle. Delaney was patiently waiting at Star’s head with the lead rope, as her Dad and Samantha’s Dad, Ray, gently lifted and held Sara in the saddle as they entered the round pen for her ride. The smiles inside the round pen and the flowing tears of joy outside, from those who witnessed this miracle, cannot be adequately described, but I assure you that we have pictures to prove it!
Life takes twists and turns that lead us down paths we would never choose for ourselves. I am so thankful that God has higher and greater plans and that His ways are not my ways. He sees so much more than I do with my short range, tunnel vision.
My God, how awesome YOU are. Your ways are so amazing and great. We cannot begin to understand! Thank You for your incredible blessings of restoration, teaching us how to trust again, and using what appear to our eyes to be broken and worthless things for Your very best and highest purposes. We are honored and blessed when you use us as vessels of Your power and love. You are truly an AWESOME God… I am humbled and grateful, and my heart is touched forever. Yes, you boldly remind me again and again why CSRJP is here. My prayer is that you continue to use Star and every member of the herd, as well as each human helper at CSRJP for Your honor and glory, always. AMEN!
*Our mission and ministry at CSRJP is to pair a horse and human together for an amazing horse experience at each visit. Every encounter includes one guest, one horse and one staff/volunteer member. The CSRJP horses are free thinkers and not as some at other stables used solely for “pony rides.” These precious animals, have become dull because of the same routine they are subjected to, over and over. (This could be changed!) We do provide said “pony rides” during large events, with limitations, to give exposure for CSRJP to the public, and the opportunity for people to meet and get acquainted with our individual horses. The regular practice here is to teach one-on-one natural horsemanship, which includes interaction between horse and human, typically on the ground. After a number of sessions together, the horse and guest are usually ready for horseback riding, if they both desire, and upon our careful evaluation on an individual basis. Each person is at a different level of horse experience, learning and desire. Our horse connections range from the tiniest, brand new guest, to the savviest horseperson – from petting a horse to free riding and everything in-between. We encourage guests to come regularly in order to form a bond and connection to our horses, and who respect the love and care we have for each animal here. We believe that God has placed something amazing in each horse which heals hurting human hearts, which, upon introspection, each person has. We want to share the love and unconditional acceptance that our horses give to us with all who come here. Guests are welcome at the Ranch, by appointment, free of charge. We gratefully accept donations from anyone who believes in our ministry. It keeps grain in the buckets and hay in the barn, and provides for the medical requirements of each equine. Every gift is tax deductible through our 501(c)3 status, 100% of donations go to horse care. Receipts are gratefully given for each gift. Volunteers who desire to help with work projects are always welcome. We pray for God to bless each one who shares in the ministry of Cypress Swamp Ranch Jaxson’s Place in every way. <><