In 1920, when I was eleven years old, our family had very little. But I needed new school clothes and supplies, so with ten dollars I had saved from a job I purchased “the Pony” from a neighbor and took a paper route.
This pony carried me six miles each day. I vividly remember the warmth the small horse’s shaggy winter coat provided as I rode him on severe winter days. Perhaps even more comforting during those solitary hours was his companionship.
I learned to love the animal as one of God’s creations. My pony tutored me in persistence and patience.
At age sixteen I began farming a small plot of land. A team of horses was a necessity, so I purchased two horses for thirty-five dollars, harnesses included. The team worked well together, but Old Dick became my favorite. He enjoyed a good race, and we often raced the neighbor boy on his Big Black. Old Dick nearly unseated me with his leap starts, reaching the finish line first. My youthful vanity was inflated after a race, but I would have loved Old Dick win or lose. He was my friend at work or play.
My team hauled plows, harrows, levels, planters, cultivators, and heavy wagons. One day an unwieldy load mired in deep mud. Old Dick’s teammate finally quit, unbalancing the weight and causing havoc.
I hitched Old Dick alone to the wagon tongue and gave the word. Planting his feet and lunging forward, his frame bulging with the inordinate effort, he maneuvered the load to dry ground. And then, as if it had been an ordinary pull, Old Dick trotted briskly to the barn. As usual, I removed the sweat-soaked harness and led him to the trough to drink, then to his stall for hay and grain and a bed of clean straw.
That day I understood the qualities of a faithful friend. I heard myself speak to him, not with the commands of master to animal, but with sincere expressions of appreciation for his loyalty in my service. This animal, given to me by the Creator, enabled me to provide for my family’s welfare, while teaching me cooperation and preparation.
As Old Dick aged, Dan was purchased to take his place. This animal was a burly, sorrel-shaded workhorse with white legs and starred forehead. He was the mainstay of my farm until I purchased my first tractor.
When our day began at sunrise, Dan always stood quietly, accepting the bit without protest and the harness without alarm. I could always count on his natural, wide, perfect turns at the end of straight, undamaged furrows. Despite his enormous hoofs, tender plants were rarely in danger of being crushed. I held the reins loosely as he pulled equipment for preparation, planting, maintenance, and harvest of vital crops. At the close of an arduous day, we communicated through my affectionate stroking and gentle chatter and his deep, muffled whinny. We prospered on our small farm. The tractor eventually displaced Dan.
Dan spent summer days tied in a shady corner of a lower field. On an early morning visit, I found the ropes loose and Dan on the ground in my neighbor’s orchard. It was apparent that Dan had eaten apples recently sprayed with chemicals; he was dead. I wept. Kneeling beside my beloved horse, remembering the satisfying seasons we had shared, I thanked Heavenly Father for the friendship of this fine animal. My feelings confirmed that there is spirit in all God’s creations (see D&C 77:2; Moses 3:5, 7, 19).
In my childhood I learned to regard animals as neither pampered pets nor beasts of burden, but as faithful friends. As I matured, I realized that my animals were vital to my occupation and to my family’s livelihood. Now I recognize them as tutors for my youthful spirit.
In an address concerning animals, President Spencer W. Kimball expressed this sentiment: “Seemingly, he [God] thought it was important that all these animals be on the earth for our use and encouragement” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 45). President Kimball was referring to the dominion that Adam and Eve were given over the animal kingdom (see Gen. 1:26; Moses 2:28). Dominion denotes being lord and master; but it is evident that man’s dominion over animals was not intended to be destructive.
In his address President Kimball quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said, “Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 45).
This life is a time for us to prepare ourselves for a place in the kingdom of our Father. The prudent exercise of our dominion over the earth and its creatures is part of this preparation, providing, among other things, elementary discipline for the soul. By managing well all that God has given us, we learn responsibility, respect for others, self-mastery, kindness, and gratitude. Refining these attributes can train us for another discipline: love of our fellowman.
As I treated Old Dick and my other farm animals with kindness and respect, I was blessed to learn lessons from them that helped refine my spirit. My dominion over them led me to a greater mastery over myself—and thus to a greater degree of discipleship with the Master of us all.