My Life with Animals

Animals are an important part of my life. Mostly, I love my family and friends, but my love for animals is right up there. I grew up with dogs and cats sharing my room and my life. My first dog was a little Chihuahua named Peanut. He was a fun and loving companion. And at night, he’d crawl under my bed covers and sleep down by my feet. My first memory of severe emotional grief came when I “lost” Peanut. Many years have gone by, and many pets have come and gone, but I still have their memories in my heart. And as near as I can recall, I can still count and name 28 animal pets (including four horses). I do love my family more than animals, but I have been known to say, “Generally, I like animals more than people!” Pets are loyal and love us unconditionally; they are always happy to see us; they are quick to forgive our mistakes; and, they never hold a grudge. My animals make me happy, and they can take away the sadness. I love my animal friends.

Always happy and loving. Rest in Peace Girls (Jesse and Daisy)
Horses have become an important part of my life, too. I’m sometimes not sure whether they belong to me, or I to them.  Years ago when we bought our first horses, I used to say the horses had given me a Native American name …which roughly translated as “he who brings hay.” Over time, both in the saddle and walking in the pasture, they would just stay nearby me.  I always knew that when I walked out into the pasture, they’d recognize me, and then walk straight to me.  As creatures of habit, horses usually like their daily chores and routines.  That includes having specific “duties and responsibilities” that they could anticipate on a regular basis.  It is sometimes a bit boring being a horse, so they liked having something to do.  Having a known and regular work assignment is good for a horse’s mind.

I believe horses are a beautiful and divine gift from God to man.  They are loyal and trustworthy friends who like to be with you, and they make the land so much more beautiful just by standing there and grazing.  A horse’s first purpose is just to be a horse: to graze and drink and run a little. But, if properly cared for, horses also provide companionship and service to man. Over the years, my horses and I have developed mutually supportive friendships. It has been a loving and cooperative “give and take” relationship.  Until recently, I had three of these beautiful creatures in my little herd: Jake (the oldest), Josie and Beauty. Jake and Josie are both full sized Registered Tri-Color Paints, and Beauty is a relatively small Black grade kids’ pony. They were all very well trained and provide me hours of good work and joy.

I have learned a great deal working with horses. In reality, I believe we can learn more from horses than perhaps they can learn from us. Positive characteristics such as patience, kindness, gentleness, consistency, and love come to mind. Also, other practical steps, such as regular feeding, plenty of fresh water, shelter from the elements, and exercise are important. Most animals can be divided into two broad categories: Prey or Predator. Horses are a “prey” animal and are ready to bolt at the first sign of potential danger or threat. So in working with them, I first had to gain their trust. I did this by remaining calm and consistent: no wild behaviors, sudden movements or cruelty.  And of course, a regular routine: regular feedings, ample fresh water, plenty of exercise, allowing some free expression, and a great deal of love and handling.  The goal is to gain and maintain their trust and bond with them: become a herd.  You have to be patient and consistent with horses (predictable enough that they can read you): you do this by being consistently patient, kind and gentle, but firm. As horse trainer Buck Brannaman puts it: “Gentle in what you do, and firm in how you do it.” Working with horses has made me a better man.

In the summer, I usually turned the horses out at night to graze in the pasture. During a new moon, when the earth is in darkness, I loved to walk out into the pasture and just stand there taking in the peaceful majesty of the night and the canopy of stars in the sky above. Horses have good night vision, so they could see me …but I couldn’t see them. They would always walk toward me and gather very closely around me in the field. It was inspiring when I heard and sensed those large animals approaching me out of the darkness to stand next to me. They knew who I was, and they trust me. It reminds me of a scripture in Isaiah. Israel had turned away from their God, and Isaiah was lamenting: “The ox knoweth his master, …but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:3). Israel’s animals knew their masters (and loved them); but, Israel itself knew not (or had forgotten) their God who is their Master. It is essential that we know our God who loves us and provides for us (see John 17:3). This is certainly a lesson we can learn from our animal friends.

Clockwise from little Riley at my feet: Josie, Blaze, Jake, and Beauty. That’s me in the middle.

Another lesson I learned from my horses was to “be prepared for and anticipate the morning light.”  Our ranch was located in a beautiful mountain valley where the winter mornings can be very cold. I usually fed the horses in the mornings before the sun came up and in the early evenings just before dark. The winter nights can be long and cold for the animals, so in the early mornings, they would usually gather together on the west side of the pasture to catch the first bit of sunlight as it breaks over the tops of the east mountains. Myself, I also watched for the sun to rise above the horizon …because I knew as soon as it did, “immediately,” and I literally mean “immediately,” I felt the warmth of its radiance.

This is a great lesson and a “type” of the influence of the Gospel and the Savior in our lives. Those of us who may be struggling in darkness and/or despair (whether by ignorance or disobedience) can also feel the “immediate” love and influence of the gospel in our lives when we turn from inappropriate behavior and embrace Jesus Christ. He will “immediately” bless our lives with His love and the warmth of the gospel. We may not be made completely whole “immediately,” but we will feel his love and have hope “immediately” as the “great plan of redemption” is “brought about” in us. Pure and lasting joy will come as we learn more of Him, continue to follow Him, and embrace His Plan of Happiness.

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.”  (Book of Mormon, Alma 34:31) 

For insight concerning our sacred and eternal relationship with animals, please see:
Animals and the Afterlife,” by President Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS General Conference Address, October 1928; and,
The Gospel and Animals,” by Gerald E. Jones, Ensign Magazine, August 1972.

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