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Horse Trainer Uses Lessons from Equine Sessions for Outreach Ministry

Sandhills Horse Ministry is making the character of Christ observable through equine training demonstrations.
With a saddle, blanket, and bridle in hand, Brandon Mayfield enters the arena where Blackie, a 3-year-old quarter horse gelding, trots around its perimeter, who watches warily as the horseman drops the gear and sizes up the beautiful animal.

“This horse thinks all he’s supposed to do is run around and eat grass. He thinks he’s free. He doesn’t know his true potential,” Mayfield says as Blackie continues to evade his efforts to approach him. “He doesn’t want anybody too close to him. Kind of just wants to run around and do his own thing.”

Mayfield, 41, of New Hope Assembly of God in Burwell, Nebraska, grew up on a Nebraska ranch training horses. He’s handled many like Blackie, whose body language reveals mistrust of his visitor.

A few years ago, Mayfield had an epiphany of sorts: the relationship between an untrained horse and its trainer is a lot like the relationship between people and God.

“At first, I'm perceived as a threat (Blackie) wants to stay away from,” he says, “and the saddle represents the tools God puts in front of us and wants to teach us how to use.”

Those tools enable horses to travel beyond the small confines of a round pen and broaden their worlds to explore life safely accompanied by a master.

Mayfield recognized long ago that he has a way with horses. He says that he sensed the Holy Spirit nudge him toward using that gifting to help people relate to God and the loving relationship He desires with them, “and how He wants to show us our full potential,” he says. The horse-training process provides object lessons for believers and non-believers alike.

“You can see he’s skittish, wants to get away,” Mayfield says. “But with time and patience, as we build trust, he follows me. Once he fully trusts me, he’s happy and willing” to do as asked.

After trust forms between Mayfield and his animal trainee, the horseman can begin to teach him to obey commands and specific tasks. “When a horse has been trained, anybody can saddle it and ride it,” he says.

From there, potentially the animal can get specialized training for use in cattle roping, barrel racing and other work.

Blackie belongs to a friend of Mayfield’s 17-year-old son, Austin, who works on the friend’s ranch. Nobody could get close enough to saddle the horse, let alone ride him.

“He had a wild spirit and doesn’t want to be messed,” Mayfield says. The ranch had written him off as a lost cause. Before giving up, the ranch asked Mayfield to try.

Dave Busch pastors New Hope in Burwell, a 1,100-person cowboy town surrounded by ranches in the middle of the Sandhills, the geographic center of the state. It’s also the home of Nebraska’s biggest rodeo.

Busch recalls watching a video of Mayfield trying to saddle a spirited horse.

In the video, Mayfield gives play-by-play narration, occasionally talking to the animal he’s training, interpreting its behavior and comparing it to the way God patiently teaches each person with a distinct personality, wooing His creation into a trusting relationship. The viewer identifies with the horse’s objection while witnessing first-hand that the horse trainer’s ways are meant to bless the animal.

“I said, ‘Brandon, you need to publish this,’” Busch says. Mayfield responded that he hadn’t succeeded in breaking the horse.

Busch, however, saw it differently: “The message he was saying, that preaches. Somebody could get ministered to by that.”

So the pastor forwarded a couple of Mayfield’s horse videos to those he thought would be interested. Among them was Toby Schneckloth, superintendent of the Nebraska Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God. Now Mayfield is receiving interest from churches and ministries within the state and beyond.

That’s how Sandhills Horse Ministry was formed. Mayfield’s weekday job as a flatbed trucker leaves his weekends open to public horse-training session outreach.

The central message Mayfield aims to convey to an audience is this: “If you spend time with God, give him access to your life, learn to listen to His voice, together you can go out and do anything.

“All you need is you and God. Sometimes it takes hitting that rock-bottom place. I think anybody who doesn’t try to have a relationship with God finds a rock-bottom place,” Mayfield says. “God finds everyone in a different way. He’s not a one-size-fits-all God. He meets us where we are and the way we need it.”

The same goes with horses. “Some things with God are constant. What might work to get this horse to come around won’t work with that horse,” Mayfield says.

“And you say, Okay, we’ll get out of here together.”

Mayfield aims to reach the unchurched, including those who have heard the gospel but turned away. The target audience of Sandhills Horse Ministry is “anybody who wants to come and listen–it piques the interest of people who aren’t even Christian,” Mayfield says.

With an object lesson, viewers can watch a horse transform in a short time, often from wary to allowing Mayfield to be the first ever to saddle him.

Lessons from a horse arena will likely speak to kids rebellious as he was growing up. As an adolescent he got into alcohol and began experimenting with drugs. He got into trouble with the law “for dumb things” such as motor violations that landed him in traffic court. Mercifully, he never got into serious trouble, unlike others in his crowd.

No horse, even fully trained, ever goes out to do things on his own without a human companion.

“I don’t train a horse to turn him out to run cattle. You don’t go to a rodeo and see a horse by himself,” Mayfield says. “God wants to be a team with us. He wants us to work together.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.