The Art of Gentling
- Timothy Palla Contributing Writer
- 2007 10 Oct
My three youngest children recently acquired pets which have become an exciting part of their homeschool education. Did I say pets? I meant livestock. Yes, Meghan (eight going on nine), Ethan (ten), and Aidan (twelve) are now the proud owners of three beautiful foals. Normally I would never recommend giving a child a young horse, but this is a highly supervised elective and my wife and I have the assurance that the Lord was in it (He has been known to do some rather surprising things, hasn't He?). The story begins about two and a half years ago, but I'm going to spare you many of the details and only go back to August 2007. Hopefully, I'll be able to tie it all together by the end of this article.
A neighbor of mine breeds, raises, trains, and shows Paint (spotted) horses. It is a family business, you might say, and they are quite successful with several national champions to their credit. Last month the owner called me up and told me he had three foals which he wanted to give to my three youngest children. He had watched my daughter and sons show their ponies at the county fair and something he saw made an impression.
During lunch break on our second day of class, three nervous weanling foals were unloaded from a horse trailer into a pen in my backyard. The babies were not used to being handled and they were now in a strange environment making them even more fearful and skittish. It would require lots of patience and gentleness to transform their fear into trust. The process is not new to me, but the results are always amazing.
Three weeks later the foals willingly let three young children lead them around in a corral, brush their fuzzy coats, pick up their feet, and wash their faces. Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan have observed me gentling the foals and then simply followed my example. It is thrilling to watch them, but the story gets even better.
Remember when I told you it all began two years ago? Well, here's "the rest of the story..."
The gentleman who gave the horses to my children had made his career in the public school system. He had been a part of it all of his life and, upon graduation, went to college to become a teacher. Later on he became involved in administration and a few years ago he retired. He was anti-homeschooling one hundred percent...until two years ago. You see, one day he needed help on his horse farm and came to my door to inquire if I had any boys who wanted to work. Later on the man admitted his doubts that the employment situation would last or be productive -- after all, homeschoolers have no socialization skills. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
Through two years of closely observing my son -- under a variety of good and bad situations -- my neighbor has had a complete change of mind. He now tells people that he supports homeschooling over public education. "If I had to do it all over again, I would homeschool my own children," he says. Imagine that! I'm in awe over what God will do through the lives of homeschooling parents and their children when they take a gentle approach to opposition. Two years of scrutiny have completely changed this man's mind.
Gentling, by definition, means "to raise from commonality." I like it. The word gentle also means, "tractable, docile, free from harshness, sternness, or violence." A tractable horse is one which is easily lead, handled, and managed. Gentle also means "belonging to a family of high social station." (emphasis mine) I'm not kidding on that one. Look it up. To gentle a young horse you remove its natural fears, aggression, and resistance by building trust. It takes some time initially, but in the long run it is the most beneficial form of training.
Without even realizing it, I had been employing the same techniques on my anti-homeschool neighbor that I use with horses: overcome resistance by building trust. It won't matter if you are trying to train horses or convince others that homeschoolers can socialize, two credible influences that can change the thoughts of man and beast are gentleness and truth. Truth can stand on its own, but gentleness draws the heart.
My goal is to have a gentle loving home, children, church, and animals -- uncommonly so. That means I have to be a leader, father, pastor, and trainer who is gentle in the way I speak, teach, live, and gentle in the way I draw others to truth. The truth is: my children are kind to animals. The foals don't know this fact until they experience the gentleness, then they believe it. The truth is: homeschooled children can socialize just fine. The opposition may not know this until they experience their uncommonly gentle behavior, then they will be convinced.
Gentleness is an art. It requires time and patience, but the end result proves it is the best training method; it produces the highest yield. Oh, that more of us took the gentle approach! Imagine the mountains that could be moved; the resistance that could be eliminated; the hurt that could be avoided; the joy that could be owned. For Christians, gentleness is a natural by-product of the indwelling Spirit of God. It is a medium in which God intended for us to develop great proficiency.
"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." James 3:17, 18
"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient." II Timothy 2:24
"Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great." Psalm 18:35
Timothy Palla is a pastor, author, and horseman. He and his lovely wife, Jennifer, have five children; Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan. They have been involved in homeschooling since 1993. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.