10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp

Here is a random list of life lessons I learned while hand-feeding wild horses at Mustang Camp a few weeks ago. Two of my older kids have spent extended time here, helping to tame these recently captured horses so that they can be adopted. My youngest daughter and I recently had the privilege of spending four days at Mustang Camp, helping with record keeping and initial hand feeding of a new group of 24 horses that had just arrived. (See a video of their arrival HERE)

You can learn more about this wonderful place HERE and HERE.

  • When you keep working through a whirling dust storm, you will spend the next few days picking little bits of hay and wind-driven-dust out of every imaginable place—your hair, your ears, your cleavage, your socks, deep inside your boots, and more! LESSON: walking through difficult times doesn’t end when the storm is over—there will be lots of remnants of that experience that will still need to be dealt with.


    Mustangs must be fed, no matter what weather occurs.

  • My job was to spend time with the new arrivals, talking with them, singing to them, and feeding them four times a day. I had to learn that although it didn’t feel significant (and I felt guilty about all the hard work others were doing with watering, feeding, and mucking pens), this really was “the most important job” at the Camp! LESSON: spending time with others and building relationships is more significant than you might think!

    spending time

    Sometimes spending time to build relationships looks like wasting time...

  • Although my kids and I are NOT “morning people,” it is not hard to get up early and work hard all day long when the work is interesting and meaningful. (You can see additional photos of Anna’s work assignments HERE) LESSON: when you hate to get out of bed in the morning, it might not mean that you didn’t get enough sleep…it might mean you need to find more meaningful things to fill your days…

    hard at work

    Early mornings and late nights are no problem when the work is fun!

  • It is important to not get distracted by all the horses eagerly chomping food right in front of you. The fearful ones in the back need fed also, which often takes more creativity. LESSON: see the big picture and don’t let timid, quiet ones around you “fall through the cracks.” Sometimes they need more attention than the ones who are bold, up front, or showing off.

    big picture

    Don't forget to look at (and enjoy) the "big picture."

  • Consistency is KING! The only way to tame wild mustangs effectively is by consistently giving positive reinforcement and by training little-step by little-step. (Jakob is excellent at this which is why he keeps being asked to come back to help with new horses.) LESSON: Although I love to be flexible and enjoy the stimulation of new things and places and people, there is still a need for consistency in my life, especially in dealing with others.

    consistency 1

    Jakob is the king of consistency!

zebra training

Zebra training is even more difficult than Mustang taming...but consistency brings results!

  • It is important to keep long-term goals in mind. No, one must not scritch the PolkaDot King on the nose, no matter how much he nuzzles and snuffs and checks out your hands—scritching might scare him and set back his training. LESSON: sometimes reaching long-term goals means giving up short-term pleasures…


    It is SO hard not to scritch the friendly ones...

  • Aggression might be because one is a bully and has a dominant personality. But aggression can also be the result of being ostracized, picked-on, or isolated by others for too long. It was interesting to watch interaction patterns between horses change over time. LESSON: look behind the bullying to see what might be causing aggression.

    groups dynamics

    ...wish I could have gotten a photo of the biting and kicking that sometimes occur!

  • When a foal is born to a young wild mare who has been starving and who won’t let the baby nurse, the baby has poor odds of survival. Unlike with a tame animal, the mother can not be handled or penned to help the baby nurse. Bottle-feeding colostrum (thawed from a supply bought from the vet) and milk-replacer help, but might not be enough. LESSON: sometimes no matter how much love we give and how hard we work, nature still takes its course.

    wee dibbuns

    We loved and took care of Wee Dibbuns for almost two days...

  • Wild mustangs are often incredibly fearful. Overcoming this fear is a main focus of using positive reinforcement to tame them. LESSON(s): When you run from fear, fear grows. When you face your fears over and over and over, fear gradually dies out. And when you face your fears side-by-side with a buddy, everything feels less scary!


    Life is easier when you've got a friend!


It was a Scrapbook “Retreat”

re-treat,  origin 1880-1885


1. the forced or strategic withdrawal of an army or an armed force before an enemy, or the withdrawing of a naval force from action.

2. the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion.

3. a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy: The library was his retreat.

4. an asylum, as for the insane.

5. a retirement or a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation.


I recently spent a weekend away from home at a Scrapbook Retreat. In trying to decide how to write about the experience, I looked up “retreat” in the dictionary. The definition gives a good framework to tell you about the various aspects of my time away from home.

1. The past few months have been stressful as we have faced many challenges, road-blocks, and government incompetencies. This past weekend became a strategic withdrawal from those stresses. It also became a withdrawal from action—time to step back and stop working so hard to move forward in ministry plans and goals.

Ft. Lone Tree Gates

"The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him." Nahum 1:7

2. As I left town with a friend it definitely felt like we were withdrawing from our normal lives. We drove over 5 hours to get to the camp where the retreat was being held. (I must comment that as an easterner the distances across this and other western states still amaze me!) It was SO refreshing to have no to-do list, to have no family needing my help with this or that, to have no meals to cook, to have no phone calls or internet to keep up with. Although we were with a group of women and did plenty of talking as we worked on scrapbook pages, the weekend was still a form of seclusion from daily life. We were also in a beautiful setting, with rustic log buildings, mountain views, and colorful sunsets.

mountain sunset

Surrounded by beautiful scenery...

3. The campground, Fort Lone Tree, was a wonderful place of refuge. The “blockhouses” held bunk rooms. We had few enough women attending that my friend and I were the only women in “our” room—just two of us with a choice of 10 different beds to sleep on! (I doubled up the mattress on my bed…much more comfy.) We each had our own table space to spread out all our stuff and work on pages. There was no set schedule (other than meal times which had wonderful, yummy food served family style). Some women got up before dawn and started work…others, like me, stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, working and talking.


Bunkrooms in "Blockhouses" at the four corners of the "fort"

4. Yep, you could also say this retreat was an asylum for the insane… After all, does anybody in their right mind work 10-12-14 hours per day for multiple days on putting together scrapbook pages?! Preparation styles also varied widely: some of the women thought I was obsessive in my organization since I came with just one suitcase filled with scrapbooks to be worked on. Each page protector was filled with the various paper, stickers and photos to be compiled into finished pages. On the other hand, I thought most of the other women were “crazy” to bring bags and boxes and bins of their supplies to compose pages on the spot. There was friendly banter back and forth about our choices…but the end result was the same. Page after page finished with photos, journaling, and embellishments, ready to be added to treasured albums.


Scrappin' with my friend...

5. Finally, an unexpected bonus of the weekend was that most of the women who attended were clearly Christians. I had some late night conversations about difficult life journeys and about how our faith helped us survive. Wonderful worship music was part of the background music—in addition to an eclectic mix of Johnny Cash, John Denver, pop favorites, golden oldies, and more.

Ft Lonetree Lodge

An unexpected place for spiritual encouragement!

I went on this weekend expecting to finish lots of scrapbook pages and hoping to build a deeper relationship with my friend, both of which happened. But I also came home from this weekend refreshed and renewed, ready to face life’s challenges with energy once again. This was truly a “retreat” in all definitions of the word!

A Fruitful Time?

“There is a great difference between successful and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities.

A Time of Fruitfulness...

Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” -Henri Nouwen

If you follow my updates on Facebook and the blog entries I write for Lybrook Community Ministries about living in Navajoland, you will already know that the past few weeks have been difficult.

  • Repeated electric brown-outs have fried appliances, including making my oven and my washing machine unreliable.
  • Modem issues and poor service led to a change of internet providers which caused chaos with our on-site network.
  • A friend who lives on-site took a bad fall with major injuries incapacitating her for a few weeks. We helped with animal care for that time and office work is still behind.
  • The mission truck was out of commission for a few weeks with costly repairs needed.
  • There is a huge (invisible) leak in our water lines meaning we only turn the water on for a

    ...water leaks and other challenges...

    short time each day to take showers, do laundry, and refill every bottle, pot, and pitcher with water to use throughout the day. (The backhoe guy is here today, trying to find the leak and finally fix it.)

  • Anna’s precious kitten has disappeared.
  • Repeated heavy rainstorms have made it difficult to get into and out of the remote canyon where Nettie is working. The bad roads have also prevented us from going in occasionally to help out with mustang taming.
  • Those same amusement-park drives on back roads took out the oil pan on our PT Cruiser which was our best bet for navigating slippery, pot-holed roads.
  • On-going requests for additional or repeated information from state agencies make getting EMT and education certifications and licenses a prolonged, frustrating process.
  • Our comfortable, familiar weekly schedule has changed—due to Randy’s teaching, Anna being in school, and Jakob’s youth-group-church changing class offerings. We still haven’t found a new workable schedule.
  • Randy is struggling to juggle teaching responsibilities (at local middle school and at community college in town) and still oversee most of the above maintenance issues of this property. He is exhausted…
  • Delays and rescheduling are typical out here…but it is still irritating when the volunteer fire department cancels meetings and the backhoe guy appears two days late, with no phone calls letting us know what is happening.

Are you still with me, even with all that whining? Good. Because that litany of frustrations, challenges, and complications is NOT the focus of this blog entry.

In talking with my sister yesterday, I discovered the underlying frustration I’ve been carrying. It feels like we are treading water, barely keeping afloat. We are at a cross-road for this ministry. We have finally identified a specific ministry focus. We need to follow-up with local leaders and local schools to define and refine the vision. We desperately need to begin the process of building a stable financial base for this mission, both for a transition period and for long-term ministry.

To be successful, there are things we need to be doing. To be successful doesn’t mean treading water. To be successful means there should be concrete projects finished and checked off the to-do list. This has certainly NOT been a time of success.

And as I whined and complained to my sister, she had a wise response. She challenged my perspective. She reminded me that this could well be the most fruitful time we have had here so far. Even when we don’t see it, others are looking at us. They are watching to see how we deal with challenges in life. We are still here. We have not given up. We are still reaching out to help others. This frustrating time might well be a very significant time.

For now it's fruit-salad...not steak.

Hmmm…it sure doesn’t FEEL significant. And it certainly doesn’t feel “good.” I’ve been pondering what my sister said, and I hope she’s right. I hope this really IS a fruitful time. (It certainly isn’t a “successful” time!)

I guess it’s time to make fruit-salad, rather than wishing for steak…