The modern trend of spending money that we do not have distracts us from truly considering the difference between what we think we want versus what we really need.

The first horsemanship clinics I attended might have clouded this vision for me, but the next horseman I learned from helped clear the air. This individual also helped me tie horsemanship to God in a very natural way. Since then most successful horse clinicians have been emphasizing equipment to help them make money. But just like the basic gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to keep our eyes on what is truly important to stay focused on genuine horsemanship.

We all should listen to experts, yet it can be frustrating trying to separate out what we truly need from what it is these experts “need” to sell. After leaving my first horse clinic, I just had to go out and buy that special bit that the expert had designed. At least I thought I did.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

I believe that even a teenager that has a peer pressure burden, can be convinced that actual skill is what we should be focusing on, and that actually impresses us all much more than a fashionable piece of equipment. Famous horseman Ray Hunt brought this out better than anyone else I’ve seen and emphasized the hand behind the equipment rather than the actual equipment. He said “if all I had was baling twine, but used it in the right way, I might be far ahead of someone else who had the ‘right bridle’ but was not skilled in the use of it.”

Hunt impressed upon me the importance of when to put pressure on, and when to take it off. When I began focusing on the timing and intensity of pressure I applied to the horse, I realized the true secret to communication. It actually helped me rely less on equipment. But most of all it helped me relate it more to the things of God. From the Bible’s record of David and Goliath, we know God worked through David, but we also know that David had become very skillful with a simple poor mans sling.  This just happened to get the job done ahead of a whole army of men who had the “right equipment.”

The fact that most people on earth are poor can be fuel for the atheists who feel there is no God. But I feel it is this situation that forces us to be more resourceful with what we have. I can understand why God designed things this way, because this provides more potential for genuine growth.

There is a popular headgear that many people are putting on their horses today. It seems to be a fine bridle for guiding a horse. The problem is that the bit alone costs well over $100. I am still recommending to most people to buy a simple snaffle bit for $3 to $4. The definition of a snaffle bridle means no levers. The reins connect directly to a ring on the bit itself. Levers are meant for more vertical flexion in advanced work. I might recommend levers for kids for more control, but otherwise the basic snaffle is hard to beat to develop better basics.

Even with the hinge in the middle it is not a snaffle bit if it has any levers or shanks at all. Shanks do help if a horse does not want to stop, but the main point to make is that horses can be desensitized to pressure. That is why I always stress the fact that a horse stops because we release pressure, not because we apply it.

A rider who learns the skill of slow to apply pressure and quick to release it is far more valuable than the rider who depends on equipment. The way I look at it, the less I have to put on my horse when I use them for chores, then the more they get used. Technically I could ride either of my horses with no equipment when I am letting cows into a pasture with previously unrolled hay. But I will usually ride with at least a halter and lead rope for back up. When I saddle, I have a quick cinch mechanism that is very simple and cheap to install.

It is funny how some people like to brag how much they paid for something. My wife April and I are the opposite. We like the cowboy quote “money is like manure, it don’t stink as bad when it’s spread out a bit more.”

Jesus shows us that practical religion is the same as practical horsemanship. Proverbs 22:7 says “…borrower is slave to the lender.”

The only one I want to be a slave to is my creator God. He has a great way of giving true freedom to those who love him, in contrast to those who think they are free without him.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

For quite a long time now, many cattle operations have replaced horses with machinery for many reasons concerning convenience and efficiency. But emphasis today on animals doing more and us doing less – along with various health issues – more and more makes horse sense a reality again.

I heard renowned horsemanship trainer Ray Hunt make the statement about 30 years ago, “our horses are kind of living in a phony world now a days.”

I figure there are two reasons why our horses wouldn’t be living in a phony world: They are either helping us with our work, or helping us stay or get in shape. The small herd size of the average cattle owner, along with the growing popularity of cell grazing and electric fence, points the direction to less machinery and a better bottom line.

I heard a definition of excellence in animal husbandry as “set up your operation so that the animals do more and you do less and everyone will be happier for it.” In our mechanized age, we have been trying to tweak more production off the land by having machinery graze the land and distribute nutrients back on the land via manure and fertilizer spreaders.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

But the cost of machinery and fertilizer has made many ranchers rethink whether it is worth the effort. Those of us who love machinery and do not mind spending time underneath them can bow down to these graven images with their consistent need for maintenance (and break downs) while they drop grease, dirt and mud on us. But I prefer to pass on that style of worship, as well as spend less time sitting in a noisy chair that blows smoke in my face on wheels going over uneven ground.

The modern world of cell grazing is actually more horse-friendly than people might realize. We can put up high-tension wire and poly lines on horseback without much trouble. Barbed wire was nearly impossible unless we just use the horse with saddlebags to put clips on t-posts. Since the spool of wire stays on the ground in a spinning jenny, a horseman can just take one end of the wire and go. Poly line is light and can be rolled out and up again on an extension cord reel, which is very easily handled horseback. Water tanks, mineral, step in posts and poly reels can be skidded with poly feed tubs attached to a rope dallied on the saddle horn.

Wise use of pasture can cut hay use down to two round bales or less per cow/calf unit per year (four acres per cow/calf yearly average). Round bales can be set up behind poly lines on slopes ready to roll down at an angle. Weather permitting, bales can be unrolled in different pastures ahead of time. This allows more efficient use of fossil fuel, and more frequent use of hay burners to move themselves and each other. A young responsible rancher planning ahead can work out a deal with neighbors using borrowed or rented machinery cheaper than can be owned when it is not needed as often.

This is really the difference between moving or opening poly lines horseback and how often we have to fire up our machinery, whether we are grazing or feeding hay. We know that how well we unroll hay or graze can distribute this organic fertilizer/manure better. There are unlimited ways of setting up poly lines to compliment high tension wire and being creative about making it convenient to put up and take down.

Good horsemen can put up and take down poly lines hands-free in guiding our mount, since good horses have acquired cruise control, auto-pilot, obstacle sensing and negotiation capabilities. Step-in posts can be put in more efficiently with a horse than a four-wheeler because the horse stays with us, whereas we need to keep going back to our machine when we are using it instead. Since cell grazing moves cows to fresh grass more often, cows are easier to move, and there are less health issues. Smaller herds contribute to this as well.

The average age of the modern cattle rancher is well over 60 years. If the young cattle rancher is going to have a chance, they will find ways to keep most of their money in cattle, not equipment. If they can impress neighboring landowners with distributing their grazing, hay unrolling and therefore manure more evenly and efficiently through use of high tensile electric and poly line, the most important battle will be won. Landowners will be more willing to lease to a good grass manager.

In regards to human health, the horse allows us to keep our waist and back, and all of our joints and muscles in balanced motion much like an athlete. Riding a machine is not much different than sitting in a glorified office chair.

In the modern age of multitasking, how about telling the bank to keep their money, and OPEC to keep their oil, then giving the doctors and drug companies more vacation time (like the Maytag repair man) all at the same time?

There is much freedom in cutting our dependencies. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, that the “borrower is slave to the lender.”

Remember in God’s 10 commandments, the second commandment is about no false gods, i.e. “balance.” Like a good budget, money is like manure: it does not do much good unless it is spread around. Get your horse in on it, too. They can fertilize while they help us breathe fresh air and stay healthier longer.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot hoof-trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

Last week my brother called and told me Jimmy Allen had died recently.

This was a man I had really looked up to as a teenager who was just getting into horses. It really caused me to reflect on where I have been and where I am now. Also my view of God and church, then and now.

My dad died when I was 10 years old. I was drawn toward animals as long as I can remember. My mom let me get some rabbits, and soon I was raising them, and selling them. I got into chickens, but when the roosters got old enough for their full-throated crow I had to back off, because we were living in the suburbs and people frowned on being awakened at 3 a.m. (I had some real early birds).

I then asked my mom if I could have a dog. She agreed, as long as I would continue to spend time with him. I actually picked a rabbit dog – a beagle. He learned the difference between leaving my rabbits alone, and chasing wild rabbits instead.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

At age 14, I asked my mom if I could have a horse. She said, “fine,” as long as I would get a job, find a place to keep it, buy it myself, pay its board and see how I do. I found a paper route nearby paying $60 a month, and saved $150 in three months, meanwhile finding a barn two miles away that pastured horses for $20 a month.

I found an appaloosa gelding in the paper I was delivering, and bought him. I re-channeled my teenaged energies from getting into trouble to practicing with horses. I settled into a routine of taking my beagle behind my 10-speed bike to my horse after school everyday, and on weekends. I was (and basically still am) shy, but I was consistent about spending time with my animals. This particular horse died of colic six weeks after getting him.

My mom lent me $175 to buy a sorrel mare, and I was back in business. Jimmy and Betty Allen owned the business where I kept my horse, and were inspirational to a 14-year-old boy trying to find his wings. Jimmy was a 27-year-old cowboy who knew horses well, and was skilled beyond his age in many ways. I looked up to him probably more than he knew (shyness can hide a lot). Betty showed a good example of what a skilled farm woman was about – gentle enough with her kids, but tough enough to deal with all the chores, and us boarders.

She basically ran the business and put out fires while Jimmy was on the road. Jimmy had a good work ethic, and taught me many things that I attribute to him today. Everyone at the barn liked getting together and socializing before and after riding together (we later actually had barn reunions).

We didn’t talk much about God, in fact I remember thinking that most everyone there was probably hell-bound since they seemed to have no interest in God or heaven (I was not too inspired about heaven either, due to some of the boring life insurance commercials about it). I felt that the main thing was to have fun, and it seemed that religious folk were too serious to have fun. I actually felt that hell probably wasn’t going to be too bad with all the fun people who were going there. Plus it seemed like it was real easy for religious people to get kind of “uppity,” and I was more comfortable with these guys. I guess I didn’t know any religious people willing to associate with us who could show me a good example at that point.

My first serious consideration of the things of God came about three years out of college. I had started a horse rental business after hosting a Monte Foreman clinic, and then a Ray Hunt clinic (I remember picking Hunt up at the airport with his saddle in a duffle bag). I was starting to get pretty fed up with the selfishness in some of my customers when a college church group called Campus Crusade for Christ came out to ride. Their attitude was so willing to learn, and they were doing exactly what I asked, and even more (after that I started advertising for church groups to come ride).

They handed me a four spiritual laws tract, and when I read it later, it made sense to me. They were asking me if I knew Jesus, and I said I knew of him from the Catholic church, but my main objection was he lived 2,000 years ago and that was then and this is now. I said sandals, long flowing robes and donkeys have been replaced by boots, jeans and high boy four-wheel-drive Ford trucks!

A guy by the name of John Lopez cared enough to prod me to go back to church (I had stopped going because I needed to work weekends while going to college – I kind of felt I was just going through the motions anyway). I really owe gratitude to this church that John pointed me to for teaching me so much about the Bible. I soaked it up like a sponge, and found it very practical in dealing with my attitude toward my customers. The church showed me how naturally we humans start blaming others for their selfish ways, not realizing that we all are selfish but are so easily blinded by our own faults. That church was not perfect but it sure catalyzed my understanding of a very practical down-to-earth Creator who I began to truly admire and look up to, and hoped to meet when the dust of this short life settles.

I have communicated in other columns (hopefully clearly) and I will continue to do so, that I am absolutely convinced that I will go to heaven. I make this bold claim knowing that I cannot base my entrance on anything about me – my record, my heart, the right church, rituals, whatever. On my “good” days, when I think I am so spiritual and everyone else is so blind, I might think I am 99.9-percent good, and .1-percent bad. God cannot accept that any more than he can accept rat poison, which is identical to me on my best days (not any more than a creamery can accept a truckload of milk that includes a dairy farm that had a hot cow in their tank).

The biggest pity I have for us humans is closed mindedness. C.S. Lewis once said, “In order to remain a sound atheist, one must guard what they read.” I have never heard a logical rebuttal of trusting in God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, 100-percent as the only way I will spend eternity with God. It does away with all bitterness of “the heathen around us (who, or whatever it is we blame or are paranoid about).” It contains the humility, and volunteer spirit we need to grow ourselves and our stagnant economy far better than anything else available.

More than 20 years ago, I wrote to Jimmy Allen that I was disappointed in him for causing pain to the people around him, but I also told him that his work ethic far out-shined anyone else I knew (that may still be true). I also told him that his volunteer effort to help Paul (a fellow worker) and I load some semi trucks by hand with small square bales of hay in a snow storm was the picture I saw vividly (even today as I write this) of how I see my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and how he continues to put up with our spoiled, complaining, finger-pointing selfish selves.

I don’t know if Jimmy ever made a decision for Christ. I didn’t keep in touch with him because I felt we grew apart, and could not talk with each other (what a lame excuse). I know that when my life flashes before my eyes when I die, I will be kicking myself for sitting on the bench so much when I could have had the courage to lead others to Christ  more. But I know that feeling will soon be dwarfed by being in the presence of the author and finisher of our souls.

I will always remember the Jimmy Allen, who showed me how to work, and John Lopez, who showed me the value of the local church. What did I learn from them about Christ? That the true believer has a dynamite volunteer work ethic that never quits, and that God wants humility in us above all else so that we will recognize at least a part of him through everyone we meet.

The biggest test of our obedience to the master of our souls is our willingness to sharpen each other through the local church and not give up on them, as we are so quick to do. Like an unsharpened pencil, life without Jesus has no point. The most spiritual thing we can do is let each other sharpen one another in genuine humility.

Then it will be easier for us to see the greatest cowboy of them all – the one who rode an unbroke colt through the streets of Jerusalem in the midst of a bunch of yelling, screaming people throwing cloaks and branches in his path.

I can see him now saying, “saddle up your horses, we’ve got a ride to make, through the wild, colorful yonder in my amazing grace!”

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot hoof-trimming specialist from Raymondville, Mo. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.