TRUE STORY: The boy and horse — Mark Roberts

The boy Alexander the Great and the great horse Bucephalus

Many historians concur that the confidence and determination of Alexander the Great can be attributed to one thing: his horse. The legendary beast was an Akhal-Teke black stallion, a horse that ran with incredible speed and agility and could cross vast distances of desert straits without a single drop of water. His name was Bucephalus. He was both fiery and untameable. Many had attempted to tame the beast, but after Alexander tamed him, they became inseparable. When Alexander entered the arena on that day, his father saw not a boy, but a man and he shouted: “Oh my son, search out a city for yourself, for Macedonia is too small for thee!” Alexander was only 13 years old at the time, and he went on to conquer the world on the back of Bucephalus. In fact, Bucephalus died in 326 BC, in the Battle of Hydaspes and Alexander named the city Bucephalus in his honour.

There were three horses on the farm that belonged to an equine therapist who held weekly classes with the addicts and residents who suffered from “specific” social disorders. I had seen how a man or woman lacking confidence or worth would come to the farm, and, over time, build a relationship and confidence as the horses would acknowledge and obey their instructions. These bonds would resemble Alexander and Bucephalus, and they would feel like they could conquer the world. For one particular boy, Andrew, this was especially true.

He was a 12-year-old boy, the victim of a terrible car accident that had killed both his sisters who were seated next to him. The family was on their way to church when a drunk driver skipped a red light and collided with their car, leaving only one child with permanent “no short-term memory”. Andrew could remember the past, but he just couldn’t remember yesterday. It was like his young mind had shut down, refusing to remember anything, including the day of the accident. Every day was new, and a family of five was suddenly reduced to three.

Every day Andrew would come to the farm and help with the horses as well as socialise with the addicts. There is something about brokenness that is beautiful, especially when you see how addicts identify with it and try to protect others against it. Andrew was special and every addict knew it. He would arrive early, eat breakfast which would be served to him by his big “sisters” on the farm. It was something to behold; they would fawn over him, smothering him with hugs and kisses. If he opened his mouth to utter a word, there would be a row of girls waiting for his command. I had never seen such a display of motherly affection in my life. Even girls who came from horrid pasts knew how to love and protect him.

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The farm wasn’t equipped to deal with children as young as Andrew, but I was eager to help the lad. For a few days, he followed me around. He later went straight to the horses. King was his favourite horse — an old weathered male who had more patience than Job of old. Every afternoon I would shout over the fence as he drove away: “Don’t forget to bring the carrots tomorrow!” He obviously never remembered. Eventually, King would wait at the fence for Andrew, and the daily routine would be the same. They stared at each other and then wandered off on some great adventure. A deep bond began to emerge, and, at times when I would go check on them, they would be in deep conversation with each other. One afternoon I sent Libby to go to look for them, and she dutifully returned and said: “It’s so cute. It’s like they’re talking to each other.”

At times I felt like I was in Narnia, waiting for King and the other horses to respond to Andrew’s questions. If they did, they kept it a secret from me. What they discussed on those morning walks, I’m not sure, but I was sure that at some stage he and King would discuss that “fatal day” when Andy’s world was forever changed. On an odd morning, I would rise before dawn to check the perimeters. Sure enough, there was King standing at the gate, waiting for his new “bestie”.

One afternoon I walked in on Andy and King. Neither had noticed my presence. “Thanks for listening, King. I know you understand,” said Andy as he ruffled King’s mane. I wasn’t sure what King said, but it sounded like a horse would say: “It’s cool, bro,” as he nudged his nose into Andy’s neck. “God must love me a whole lot to give me a friend like you,” said Andy as I turned and silently left the barn, still unnoticed, with tears in my eyes.

“Don’t forget the carrots, Andy!” I shouted as they drove off that afternoon. “I’ll remember. Bye, King!” he shouted.

The next day I stood at the gate with the old faithful King at my side, waiting for Andy. As they pulled up at the gate the youngster yelled: “King, look! I remembered the carrots.” King was smiling, and I was sure I heard an appreciative chuckle below his breath.

Sometimes the only thing that broken people need is someone, or in Andy’s case, something to listen to them. We all need a King or an Amigo, someone who is patient and can wait for us to make sense of the jumbled mess of emotions and trauma spinning in our brains. Someone who won’t judge or laugh at us, but simply be there and listen. Often God uses great orators and sometimes when necessary, He uses a horse to make a difference in another’s life. I am a verbal person and some addicts love that and some prefer someone a little quieter, like Tracy, my wife. Sometimes they prefer even quieter, like King.

Bucephalus, Alexander’s horse, was skittish and would rear up at anyone who approached him. He was paranoid and afraid of his own shadow. Alexander faced him toward the sun and as his shadow disappeared, his fear was gone. It was the shadows from Andy’s past that scared him, the shadows lurking from the horrid day he lost his big sisters. But what King did was point Andy toward a ray of sunshine and hope until he finally faced the sun. On the day that Andy had thanked King, all the shadows disappeared. This is exactly how God works with us. We have lived in a world of destructive shadows and Jesus came to point us toward the One who made the sun. As we face Him, the shadows disappear and all we can say is: “Oh, Great King.” We won’t be in Narnia, and King won’t be a horse, but we will see His hand in it all, how He stood and wove a story about Himself, you and me and His great love wherewith he has loved us. Yes, we will be ‘Crowns shimmering in the blinding sun’.”

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