Broken Hearts and Broken Horses

Broken Hearts and Broken Horses

English is an interesting and often confusing language. Here are just a couple of examples:

  • A groom is half of the special pair at a wedding or how you keep your horse healthy and happy.
  • Why do we park the car in the driveway and drive it on the parkway?
  • How come a ‘fat chance’ and a ‘slim chance’ are the same thing?
  • Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell?
  • Cough, rough, though, and through…why don’t these words rhyme, but for some God-forsaken reason “Pony” and “Bologna” do?

And what about THIS??!

And then there’s contronyms–A word with a homonym (another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that is also an antonym (a word with an opposite meaning). Confused yet? You should be! 😉 For example:

Hmmmm….

“The problem with the English language is that…we don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways, beat them unconscious, and rifled through their pockets for spare vocabulary .”

–James D. Nicoll

Today’s Topic: Broken Things


I’m told some people think that ENGLISH is a broken thing…
does that mean we ALL speak broken English??


So, are you ready to talk about broken things? What’s the first emotion you feel when you think of something that is broken? Sadness? Pain? Disappointment? Loss? Regret?

I can tell you without doubt, I’ve had plenty of times when, one way or another I felt broken. This is not a good feeling either. Interestingly, being broken also produces feelings of sadness, pain, disappointment, loss and regret.

As I’ve discussed in each of the preceding posts here on Change of Heart, I spent a LONG time feeling that I was broken beyond repair as I struggled with alcoholism and other addictive behaviors. Often I felt the need to approach God, hoping that he could help me with my problems.

Imagine my frustration when I started studying God’s word in hopes of finding comfort for my guilty, addiction-prone soul and discovered that we are commanded to present to Him something that is BROKEN!

“…ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

3 Nephi 9:20 (The Book of Mormon)

So, what exactly does that mean…broken heart and contrite spirit?

A Contrite Spirit…

Lets start with “CONTRITE”. To be contrite is to “feel or express remorse or penitence; to be affected by guilt”. This makes sense when we refer to the contrite spirit–God wants us to feel sorry for the things we do wrong. That’s one of the functions of the Light of Christ (our conscience), as we’ve discussed in previous posts (see “Empty Houses: Pt. 1“)

…and a Broken Heart…?

Now, about that “broken” English language that I ranted about a minute ago… specifically, what exactly is a broken heart?? I Googled “broken heart” and found this:

“I wish I were a little girl again because skinned knees
are easier to fix than a broken heart”.

— Julia Roberts

“Every broken heart has screamed at
one time or another, “I want to know why!”

Shannon L. Alder

“One day you’re going to remember me and how much I loved you…
then you’re gonna hate yourself for letting me go.”

Aubrey “Drake” Graham

“We should love, not fall in love, because everything
that falls gets broken.”

–Taylor Swift

Want instant depression?? Just search for quotes about “broken hearts”…I’m having serious flashbacks here!

Despite my best attempts to repress certain aspects of my teenage years, I still have a vivid recollection of loving and losing (or more often, loving and leaving) some very cute girls. On several occasions, I was sure I’d never recover and that the sun would never rise again! And unfortunately, I know that I left at least a couple of broken hearts in my path of emotional destruction.

Ahhh…the memories! Major drama, major depression…major downer! Somehow, I don’t see this kind of broken heart as a good traveling companion for the contrite spirit.

Maybe now you can begin to see why I’ve struggled with the phrase “broken heart and contrite spirit” for so long. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one that has been confused by this.

Look It Up!

50 years ago, Mrs. Russell was the first of a LONG line of teachers to grant this wisdom to me: “If you read a word you don’t understand, just look it up in the dictionary”. The dictionary has provided me amazing clarity over the years, but in this case, it muddies the waters more than it helps. I looked up “broken” and found this:



broken

adjective
bro·​ken | \ ˈbrō-kən  \

  1. Fractured or damaged (as in “he had a broken arm” or “the shattered glass lay broken on the floor”)
  2. The end of a marriage or long-term relationship (as in “their marriage was broken“) or relating to a family where the parents are separated (as in “He grew up in a poor broken family).
  3. Describing a person having given up all hope, despairing (as in “He went to his grave a broken man” or “her heart was broken“)
  4. Having breaks or gaps in continuity (as in “a broken white line across the road” or “It was a long noisy night of broken sleep”)

I’ve alluded to this before–Our success or failure in approaching God for help with our problems is based on two things…1) our personal relationship with God; and 2) our personal reaction to something we’ve done wrong. So definitions #2 and #3 seem most appropriate.

Definition #2 talks about relationships (“The end of a marriage or long-term relationship”). Does God want us to end our long-term relationship with him? Absolutely not.

Definition #3 addresses OUR reaction to a bad situation (“Describing a person having given up all hope; despair”): does God want us to give up all hope and to suffer despair? With all of Christ’s teachings about love, charity, faith, hope, joy and light…again, I don’t think so.

So…why the heck does God want us to have a broken heart?

I’m quite sure Merriam-Webster got it wrong: in our current context, bro·​ken·​heart·​ed \ (brō-kən-ˈhär-təd) does NOT mean “very sad or overcome by grief”. The gospel is described as the “good news”. Another name for God’s plan of salvation is “The Plan of Happiness“. And Nephi tells us: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy“. (2 Nephi 2:25)

Yup, all of God’s children (that means you and me!) are intended to have joy, so I know happiness has to figure into this scenario somehow.

And you know what they say…”Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you horses–which is pretty much the same thing!”

My Life With Horses

One year for my birthday, Grandpa Palmer gave me a very special gift: a beautiful AHA-registered Half-Arabian/Welsh Pony mix. Her name was Dolly.

Me and Dolly

Dolly had been badly abused and it required months of daily TLC and tons of patience to get her to the point where she would allow me to use a bridle and saddle, although she would allow me to ride “at liberty” (bareback with a loose rope halter).

I worked thousands of hours with Dolly and rode her literally every day for several years. With lots of love and attention, we were able to “rehab” her, and she eventually became a loving and productive horse. As I entered my junior year in high school, my teen-aged life got crazy busy and we had to find another good home for Dolly, but by then, my love for horses was deeply ingrained.


Westernaires

One day back in 1998 while living in the Denver area, a friend at church told me about Westernaires, a non-profit in Golden, Colorado that gives “city kids” the opportunity to learn to ride and care for horses, and to be a part of an organization that produces world-class mounted performing groups. Working with horses and kids…what could be better??

For the next 10 years, I volunteered as a team coach, riding instructor, and club videographer, and all four of my daughters got to ride and work with horses several times per week. It was SO rewarding to see the personal growth in their individual confidence and leadership skills and it helped make my daughters the strong, confident women they are today.


I CAN Foundation

In 2014, we moved back to Utah. Our son Dustin is high-spectrum autistic, and we are always looking for opportunities for him to step out of his comfort zone and into new experiences. Sometimes these adventures are productive, other times, not so much! But we keep trying.

A little over a year ago, we discovered the “Kearsley I CAN Foundation” in Morgan, Utah. Doug Kearsley raises gorgeous award-winning Arabian horses and operates a riding academy for special-needs people.

Dustin, riding “Zeke”

Pure-bred Arabian horses are high-strung and temperamental. Dustin can also be high-strung and temperamental. I was more than a bit concerned about this combination when we started at I CAN, but Doug’s horses are SO well trained. Within just a few months, Dustin went from being scared to get on the horse to being able to ride “solo” at the level you see in this video.

Doug’s national champion stallion, WH Patriot is a beautiful and spirited horse. Occasionally, Doug’s stable hands are nervous about entering Patriot’s stall because of his hot-headed manners. But Patriot is a very different horse when Doug is around. He will follow Doug’s commands to a tee, and if Patriot is turned loose in the arena, he will follow Doug around like a love-sick puppy.

One day, Doug pulled me aside during Dustin’s lesson and offered me a little life lesson. He asked me: “What do you know about breaking horses?” I had to admit that although I’d been around horses all my life, I’d never really been involved in “breaking” a horse.

Doug told me that there is a right way and a wrong way to “break” a horse.

The wrong way is to break the horse’s spirit.

The contest to see who breaks first…

We’ve seen it in old western movies… the hero lassos a wild horse, drags it back to the corral and tightly cinches a heavy saddle onto the horse. Then a really big macho cowboy (or several in turn) ride the poor animal non-stop until the horse loses it’s will to fight.

I’m familiar with more contemporary stories of folks “training” their horses using a 2″x 4″ board or billy-club to “get his/her attention” and to frighten him/her into submission (I suspect this was the method Dolly’s previous owner used). These methods DO generally result in a horse that you can saddle, ride, teach to follow basic directions, etc.

But there are serious problems with this method. Horses “trained” by this method look and act drugged. They totally lose their sense of play; no running, bucking, or interacting with other horses or people.

The moment the horse is placed in a situation where they experience something they fear even more than they fear their trainer, the new fear takes complete control, and the trainer totally loses control, putting both the trainer and the horse in danger of injury.

How NOT to break a horse…from one of the best movies about horses ever made!

Then I learned the right way to break a horse.

My daughter Maddie in her native habitat

First and foremost, Doug said, the horse must know that the trainer is it’s friend and caregiver. The trainer forms a personal relationship with the horse, feeding, grooming, caring for it, and personally providing for all it’s needs. This can be a long process, requiring love, great patience and lots of selfless work.

Whenever possible, you handle the horse gently and speak in gentle tones. You continue to work to build trust until it will let you put a bridle and saddle on it. Eventually the horse will trust you enough to let you ride it.

Sometimes, training a horse involves “tough love”…if the horse misbehaves, you must immediately discipline it. It is important to be quick, decisive, and strict, but as gentle as possible when disciplining. But it is even more important to STOP disciplining the horse, rewarding it by returning to the soft touch and tone immediately when the horse returns to an acceptable behavior. This is how they learn about what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

As Doug talked about this, I was reminded of a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, where we are told how to exercise power and influence with people (and as it turns out, with horses!)…

“…by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

Reproving betimes with sharpness…and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-44

A well-broken horse…

Doug’s object lesson concluded that teaching kids (of all ages) is just like “breaking” horses. I paraphrase what he told me here:

A well-broken horse does NOT have a broken spirit…but it has been trained to use it’s strength of spirit to follow it’s master’s will. It is joyful, playful, and energetic, and enjoys performing the tasks the master asks of it. It is not frightened of it’s master, but trusts it’s master implicitly, and can accomplish many things it would not normally be comfortable doing. The horse submits to it’s master’s commands immediately and of it’s own free will. The horse behaves as it should because it trusts it’s Master and has been trained to do the His will.

Were you listening with your spiritual ears and reading with your spiritual eyes? If not, take one more look at that last paragraph…this is profound stuff!


“…Choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

OK, kids…time to make this personal.

One detail about Dolly that I didn’t mention earlier was that she was actually raised and trained by a kind, caring, and competent person. But then she was sold to her abusive owner, who applied whatever force was necessary to intimidate her into doing his will. Within just a very short time (probably days or weeks at most), the damage was done.

There was no joy in her life, and her personality changed drastically. She refused to interact or play with her stall-mates. In fact, she would lay her ears back and with great anger, chase anybody away who tried to have fun with her. She would not make eye contact with me…EVER. She did not trust ANYONE, and only begrudgingly would she obey me.

I can’t help but see the parallels to myself: I was raised with an understanding of the gospel and had a testimony of Jesus Christ. But then I allowed Satan into my life.

Satan’s plan is to apply whatever force is necessary to intimidate us into doing his will. He does it very well, and within a short time, the damage was done, and my addictions had broken my spirit. True joy was gone from my life, and frequently, I did not play well with others. If anybody tried to help, I’d push them away, sometimes with great anger. I maintained contact with the church and the gospel for the sake of my kids, but any acts of obedience were given begrudgingly.

Once I was humbled enough (not by choice, but by my circumstances) to admit that Satan had become my master, and when I realized that I needed to change my life for the better, then I could start back up the path to redemption.


Advice for addicts and for those who love them:

Just as Dolly’s story had a happy ending, so did mine. It can be done! Horses AND people with broken spirits can rehabilitate and heal.

It is not immediate, and it is never easy. A deep personal relationship with the Master is required. This will be a long process, requiring love, great patience and lots of selfless effort. The road will be long, but I promise you it is absolutely worth it.

While I was rehabilitating Dolly, there were days when I had to endure (literally) biting, kicking and screaming over something as simple as touching her with a grooming brush or gently petting her face and neck.

Next time we chat, I’ll share stories about some of the ministering angels who have helped me get to where I am today. For now, I’ll just say that there are times when being a ministering angel SUCKS! Especially when we’re talking about addiction issues. When I was trying to rehabilitate myself, my care-givers and angels were on the receiving end of some pretty obnoxious stuff. I have no idea why Julie (my wife) stuck with me through this, but she did, and I love and appreciate her SO much for it!

About Tough Love

As with training horses, tough love is sometimes required. Sometimes, you have to yank on the reins or give the horse a quick kick in the ribs to get his attention. Let me re-quote a scripture from above. Can you see how to make a difference in an addict’s life?

“…by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile;

Reproving betimes with sharpness…and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-44

You are a child of God

I testify you are a literal child of God. He is your loving father. Jesus Christ is your caring brother who has made it possible for you to be redeemed from your sins. In ways that you and I cannot even begin to comprehend, he suffered, not in a general way, but in a very individual and specific way. He experienced and suffered for YOUR pains, weaknesses, and afflictions. Whether your affliction is addiction, or whether you are afflicted with caring for (and caring about) an addict, Christ’s atonement will make you whole again. He will make your relationships whole again.


Intellectually, I have always known that this was true, but when I finally felt the true joy of the atonement, I was like a character in one of my favorite books:

“I was like a newly-born horse who knows nothing but feels everything”.

Salamanca Tree Hiddle— from “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech

I’m still trying to get my brain around how it works, but I testify that “Men (and women) are that they might have JOY” and that you can feel it too!

As always, I’d LOVE to hear about your progress along this journey called life. Leave me a comment below, or you can send a private message to me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE. And please, take a couple more minutes and check out this video–it pulls everything we’ve talked about today together beautifully:

Use the “Subscribe” tool on this page to be notified when there are new CHANGE OF HEART posts. Thanks again for reading! –Kyle

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Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE

Husband. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Son. Pro Musician. Artist. Pro Driver. Mormon. And...recovering alcoholic. Now as a professional Addiction Peer Support Specialist, I share my story at ChangeOfHeart.LIFE, facilitate 12-step meetings for the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, and work for Davis Behavioral Health at their Addiction Treatment Receiving Center.


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Celeste Rosquist
Celeste Rosquist
1 year ago

Very beautifully done my friend. I had no idea that horses were such a big part of your life while you were growing up. I love the scripture you chose to focus upon. I love reading and feeling of your testimony of our Lord and Savior, I am proud of you Kyle and Julie and all of your wonderful family.

Ilene Greene
Ilene Greene
1 year ago

Wow! what great insight with the horses. thank you for sharing.
That is great the effect the horse is having on Dustin,

Jared Legge
Jared Legge
1 year ago

I just want to commend you for having the testicular fortitude to be able to share your message. People that have never suffered addiction can never appreciate the humiliation and misunderstanding that addicts go through. It is something that spirals out of control so quickly you could almost compare it to quicksand. Praise to our great heavenly father for never abandoning us in our greatest defeat. I would love to share my story and thoughts with you someday.

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