I grew up in a small town where most families raised gardens and had farm animals to care for, and our family was no exception. We had cows, horses, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, and sometimes even sheep and goats, though the goats never worked out very well. They would often get out of their pens and invade our garden. When we tried to catch them, they would climb nimbly up onto the roof of a root cellar behind our house, and it was very difficult to get them back into their pens.
I was interested in all of the animals on our farm, but my favorites were the dogs and horses. One springtime when a mare was about ready to foal, my father said that if the colt were born on my birthday, it would be mine to raise and train and care for. You can imagine how much I hoped that the baby colt would arrive on my birthday!
On the morning of that important day I went with my father to the barn to do the milking. To my absolute delight and wonderment, there in the stall with its mother was a beautiful newborn filly, tottering about on its spindly legs.
My father kept his promise, and the colt became my responsibility. I knew it would be at least two years before she would be big enough to ride, and two years pass slowly when a boy’s head is full of visions about the adventure of having his own horse to ride.
But there was much to do in those two years. I spent many hours just being near the colt so that she would become accustomed to having me around. We were friends from the beginning. We learned to trust each other. She came to understand that I would do nothing to injure her, and she in turn allowed me to pick up her feet and handle her without kicking or biting me.
I named the colt Ginger, and as she grew I occasionally strapped light objects onto her back so that she would get used to the feeling of carrying a load. Finally when she became big and strong enough, I would lead her up to the steps of our granary where I could lean across her back and have her become accustomed to bearing my weight. I believe it was as much an adventure for Ginger as it was for me. There was never any of the contesting and bucking that we so often see portrayed in the “breaking” of a horse to carry a rider. We did everything more or less by mutual consent. If Ginger didn’t seem to understand what I was asking of her or if she became skittish, I would simply slow up the process of training until she accepted what was happening without resisting.
The last step in getting Ginger ready to carry me as a rider was to help her feel comfortable while wearing a saddle and bridle. Then my father led Ginger about while I rode her and taught her the signals for stopping and starting and for turning to the right and to the left. Eventually we accompanied my father who rode Ginger’s mother through the fields adjoining the town.
It was a thrill the day I first took Ginger out alone. We had a great time enjoying new experiences together. No boy could have been prouder than I was, and I don’t suppose any boy ever loved an animal friend more than I loved Ginger.
Later on she even learned to wear a harness and to pull a cultivator through our tomatoes and beans in the summers, in fact, she did anything we ever asked her to do.
Ginger lived for more than twenty years, very old for a horse, and she and I shared many wonderful experiences together. She was a beautiful animal even during her last years spent in a large pasture in the rolling hill country of central California.
As I have grown older, I have remembered the rich experiences enjoyed with Ginger and some of the other animals on our small farm. I have come to appreciate why our Heavenly Father placed animals on the earth to be used by man. He expects us to be kind to them and not to abuse them. They can add much to our lives while we are here on earth.
As springtime returns again, it is good to think about all that our Heavenly Father has placed on earth for our use. Life is renewed in the spring and takes on a new freshness. Let us remember to be grateful for blessings that He gives us. And as we use them wisely and well, our lives will be greatly enriched.