Monday, April 25, 2011

Healing Goes Both Ways

Happy Easter sweet friends!
In honor of the grief and joy we share in celebrating Easter, I wanted to share an article that came out in my hometown paper about my Momma and her sweet friend Lisa, and their love for horses.

This brought back so many precious memories of days spent in the hot Mississippi sun riding horses during my growing up years. Everyone who grew up with me knows, I'm actually not a big horse person. I prefer Louboutin to Carhartt, but they also never miss a chance to tell the story of me chasing down that horse up and down the highway, and actually catching her.
Luckily, my Momma prefers wading in the mud in her boots to cocktail parties, and this is her sweet, sweet story.

Healing goes both ways

Community Editor
Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011 9:33 AM CDT
LAKE CORMORANT — Blind in one eye and rescued from a life confined to being tied to a tree and left to eat his own waste, Feather, a Tennessee Walking Horse, gently nudges his new owner Lisa Sparks.

"He was 200 pounds underweight," Sparks said as a group of home-schoolers listened intently. "He has made a remarkable recovery."

Sparks, who rescues neglected or abandoned horses, said when she found out about Feather, who had been tied to a tree on a farm in the lower Mississippi Delta, she took a shotgun and a halter.

"We came prepared to put him down or bring him home," Sparks said matter-of-factly.

The horse's original owner, whom Sparks did not name, had been paying family members to take care of the horse but they simply pocketed the money instead.

"By the grace of God he survived the winter without food," Sparks said. "Horses like this, sometimes they eat their own manure."

Sparks, who has been riding horses for 20 years, discovered she needed to find out how to communicate with horses like Feather.

She became a student of horse whisperer Dennis Reis, a California rancher, who teaches the fine art of horse whispering to people like Sparks.

"I learned that I needed to understand more about horse communication," Sparks said as she taught a group of home schoolers how to create a protective "bubble" between them and the horses.

"They get to work with the horses in a natural setting, not just a stable," Sparks said.

Heidi Zumbehl, 11, Anna Grisham, 12, Hannah Sahnger and Rebekah Grisham are her willing pupils.

Sparks is assisted on this day by her longtime friend Missy Flanagan of Hernando.

The two women who share a love of horses, also share a legacy of grief.

Sparks lost her daughter Eve, 26, to cancer two and a half years ago. Flanagan lost her 16-year-old son Ben to a heart condition six years ago.

Rescuing abused animals and helping teach home schoolers about horsemanship has allowed the two women to channel their grief into a positive, almost therapeutic ministry.

"The Lord led me back here through our friendship, our love of horses and children, and our grieving hearts," Flanagan said as she waded through ankle-deep mud to a pasture where more than 14 rescued horses frolicked and roamed.

"Every horse out here has a story," said Flanagan. "Just like people. As a grieving mother I've learned you have to work through the pain. The horses are learning to work through the pain of what they have experienced."

Flanagan's husband Jim surprised her with a horse of her own this past Christmas. She named her "Beauty From the Ashes."

The name is taken from Isaiah 61:3: "He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted … to comfort all who mourn and console those who grieve and give them beauty for ashes."

The black Mustang lived on a farm in rural Marshall County.

"The owners didn't know it at the time but it had toxic waste on it and some of the other animals died," Flanagan said. "We have Beauty and there have been at least three others which came from that situation."

Like Sparks, Flanagan grew to have a love of horses.

All four of her children took part in learning how to handle and ride horses at Sparks' farm.

"Horses were my true love but I always struggled with communication," Flanagan said. "Lisa has blessed our generation of home schoolers and now she is helping another generation. It's been a blessing beyond measure."

Sparks spoke of her own grief.

"The grief becomes a crater in your heart," Sparks said. "You have a need to give because so much has been taken away."

Sparks, Flanagan and the group of teens not only learn how to train horses in the paddock area behind Sparks home but they have been given free reign of an adjoining 85 acres owned by Albert Gartrell.

Gartrell, too, lost a child years ago and has donated free use of the land to Sparks so the horses have a chance to roam and graze.

Sparks began gentling horses and learning how to communicate with them when her eight-year-old niece received a two-year-old horse with no instructions as to how to train or care for it.

Even though some of the horses are wild and unbroken and not yet gentled, the home school students are learning how to tame them.

"We teach these kids how to recognize the signs and we stress safety," Flanagan said. "It's not really anything mystical about what she does. It's all based on body language. Horses use body language to communicate and so do people."

Rebekah, her long hair tucked underneath a black Stetson, said she has bonded with the animals.

"We learn from them and they learn from us," she said.

Robert Lee Long: or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful story about two special women and their love for animals. Missy is our daughter in law and has handled the grief in her life in this way and shows others how her faith has helped her through. The hymn, "His Eye is on the Sparrow and I Know He watches me" exemplifies this.