I’ll never forget that kiss – an unexpected display of affection from Busybee. I had leased her to improve my equestrian skills and with the hope of training her for a therapy program for autistic children. But she had a bad reputation. Her owner had given up on her, saying she was moody and not fit for riding. She became agitated when mounted, often refused commands, and was generally unpredictable. I was told that her previous owners were rough with her and punished her harshly when she didn’t perform well. But she was the only horse available, so I took her under my care.
I could feel her dissatisfaction and mistrust from the beginning. Just walking her around the equestrian club was a challenge. Not wanting to follow my lead, she decided she would dominate the walks and lead me around. She would yank at the rope, quicken her pace ahead of me, and veer off the path I set. Testing my limits, she would often balk, occasionally rear and once dealt me a swift kick to my leg during a walk. It was hard to maintain my composure, to meet her unpredictable moods with firm yet calm resolve, and to consistently treat her with respect and loving care – characteristics I had hoped to instill in her so that she could be a reliable therapy horse.
Work continued week after week and, like her owner, I almost gave up. But after each session, no matter how frustrating it was, I would stroke her affectionately, sympathizing with her early trauma and acknowledging her dignity and worthiness for love. Then, as I stroked her flank one day, she suddenly turned to me and kissed me! From that day, she transformed into a willing trainee and became everything I had hoped she could be. As a therapy horse, she was composed, compliant, reliable and, most importantly, safe for the autistic riders that fidgeted on her back, day after day.
My experience with a horse provided insight into people who behave with suspicion, insult or hostility. I believe that people hurt others because they themselves are hurting. I don’t need to know the details of their lives to sense their underlying pain or shortage of love. If I can look beyond their hurtful and aggressive words and deeds and react instead to a troubled soul or a broken heart, I can more easily choose compassion and kindness. When I am tempted to react to belligerent people with similar belligerence, I hear the Quranic advice, “The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel (evil) by that which is better, and then the one between you and him is enmity will become as though he was a devoted friend” (41:34). Overriding my gut reaction to retaliate, and deliberately choosing a wholesome and positive response, takes self-control, confidence and patience. A measured response is not always easy.
The Quran supplements its advice to reply to evil with good with a qualifier: “But none attains to this except those who are patient, steadfast…” (41:35). The verse reminds me that I should not expect an immediate positive response to a single act of kindness. I will need to forgive and be kind repeatedly and consistently to prove to the offender that I value him. Having dignity, I must dignify others, even when they are vulgar. And just as I wish to be treated with honor, I should honor others, even if they make themselves seem unworthy of it. How could I hope for forgiveness if I myself cannot forgive?
Eventually, love pays off. Busybee’s kiss was a sign that kindness had mended her heart. She told me she was ready to love in return and since then she has touched autistic children in ways I cannot fully understand. But seeing them riding Busybee, smiling brightly, I realized that she had become the therapy horse of my dream, with more to give than I ever imagined. Most of all, she taught me that patient kindness will eventually triumph and then will carry forward in untold ways.