“Horses are gentle folk rather than just forceful,” says Sam Phillips, into his headset microphone. “So you make it a little hard on them, just enough pressure, until they submit. And they want to ease that pressure. If they sense that you want something from them, they are motivated to do it.”
There is small whip in his hand, and he is turning his body ever so slightly to the right and the left. He is watching a brown mare on the opposite side of a small enclosed field. The mare is obviously watching him, too. She responds to his movements obediently.
Phillips is in the middle of conducting a weekend horsemanship and discipleship workshop in Lafayette. His ministry, which is based out of Chattanooga, is called Roundup Cowboy Ministry. It's new.
Sam Phillips, who is retired, has been in ministry for 40 years and working with horses for over 50. Roundup Cowboy Ministry partners with churches, like Community Connection Church in Lafayette, where they gave the three-day workshop last weekend. When a pastor (like Bryan Morgan at Community Connection) books them, Phillips and his wife Ann load seven of their own horses, along with portable fencing and other equipment, into a trailer and head out on the road.
The weekend of Easter, the road led them to Lafayette, TN. Over three meetings, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the workshop saw more than 120 attendees.
“The purpose for doing it is to teach a better understanding of horses and people and God,” said Phillips, “and to correlate those together. We select the horse for training, in the same way that God selects us for training in his kingdom and for his work. And we don't expect the horse to be perfect—that's why each time can be a different experience. But we expect him to responsible for what level he is in. Just like that, God works with us, and as we are older and have seen more and learned more, he expects more from us.”
Phillips does his teaching in the ring with a horse. His wife is outside the ring, helpfully calling out cues to keep in on note, and reading Bible verses at his request. Man, wife, horse, and God… it all seems beautifully synchronized, with every role in place.
“Our first demonstration that we did the first night, it was all about doing the foundational stuff. Bringing the horse to a point of communication. In horsemanship it's communication between the horse and man. And having that communication, there has to be understanding. And for the horse to understand his role, there's got to be knowledge of each other. And you gain knowledge just by spending time, working together.
“So it is in the relationship of discipleship, the relationship with man and God. This relationship is a relationship of trust and respect.
“On the second night, our main theme was trust. We began to talk about the importance of the horse trusting us. And how in certain situations it is very important for the horse to trust us. But in order for the horse to trust us, he has to have the knowledge that we're not going to harm him. You use the whip as an aid, but you don't want him terrified of the whip. You have to get where your voice is powerful to him.
“And then Saturday morning was a lot about that respect. It is vitally important that the horse respect you, and that he responds to your pressure. And one of the key foundational things about horsemanship that has changed over the past fifteen years or so among trainers—is this principle of release of the pressure. Horses are gentle folk rather than just forceful. So you make it a little hard on them, just enough pressure, until they submit. So with this kind of training, it correlates with the way that God deals with us. He is a just God, and he's always a personal God. And when he deals with us, it's gentle.”
After his talk each evening, attendees were invited to ride the horses in the ring. Small children took a turn first, with volunteers leading horses, and then other age groups went—adults too.
The Roundup Cowboy Ministry has several workshops planned in the next few months, but the only date that is officially settled is August 21-23, at Old Hickory Church of God in Nashville.
For more information, visit www.roundupcowboyministry.com.