Stewardship & Horse... Manure

A friend told me once, 


“I could have saved a lot of time and had the same results to my body and bank account if every weekend instead of rodeoing I jumped off a two story building while lighting a $100 dollar bill on fire.”


His funny quip resurfaces my memory as I look at our horses at our house. They’re like reverse alchemists that transform painfully expensive hay into 31 pounds of steaming manure. Every day. In my selfish and cynical moments I brainstorm similar horse related analogies of the same vein as my friend’s rodeo comparison. My hobby not only burns money, but also requires 20 glamorous minutes of “manure management ”each day.


I procrastinate this reality far too often which led me to the recent bind of needing to haul away the massive manure pile that should have been removed two months ago. A rainy spring and a busy schedule made easy excuses to overlook it. Finally the pile of my horses digested hay and my undigested guilt grew to a size that couldn’t be ignored. 


“Wanna help me shovel manure today?” I asked my 8, 7, and 5 year old kids, “I’ll pay you $10 an hour.” 


Ten bucks an hour? Apparently inflation has expanded beyond fuel and lumber and into child labor. They recognized their father’s gaffe in negotiation and quickly agreed. 


I decided to start our day of work with a liturgy from Doug McKelvey. There was no liturgy for shoveling manure (which maybe should have given me pause) so I modified his Liturgy for Home Repairs…

“...These horses are a gift. 

And so the necessary investment of time 

and resource toward their care need not be regarded 

as a burden, but as a good stewardship
and a glad opportunity.


Give grace therefore that we might now 

perform the task before us, 

not in grudging irritation, 

but in gentleness and generosity of spirit.”


Never one to miss an opportunity for forced conversation over deep things, I pounced on this opportunity to discuss the idea of stewardship. I channeled my inner Wendell Berry and talked about caring for these horses that God gave us, and how that applies to the boring but needed task of shoveling their manure.

“We get to be stewards today,” I said. 


My youngest furrowed his brow, certain this odd new word could only mean we were joining Stuart Little on an epic adventure. 


Shoveling the manure from the pile and into our horse trailer can go relatively quickly, especially if the manure is dried and light. That was not the case for us. Heavy spring rains had transformed the pile into a heavy sponge that steamed ripe decomposition as our shovels slowly unpeeled it. Thirty minutes into the job my back tightened and my pace slowed. I dreamt of a skid steer and dump truck that would get the job done in 10 minutes. I criticized myself for letting the pile get so big. ‘Grudging irritation’ was in full effect. 


And then I thought about our three horses. The way Amigo the pony gets two shades darker when he sheds his winter coat off. I saw my daughter’s ponytail bouncing to the cadence of Brisby’s half sedated trot. I remembered the day Maddie was born, and her legs that wobbled like a poorly built stool when she first tried to stand. Slow gratitude swelled for these quirky, expensive, yet tangible expressions of grace. 


I most often view my horses as an investment to be analyzed or a chore to be completed. They become something I can ‘produce’ with my own efforts, rather than a marvel to enjoy and steward. Efficiency elbows out wonder, and humility is scoffed at.


We steward what we wonder at,

what is refreshingly and at times overwhelmingly bigger than ourselves, 

what calls for deft and discerning care. 


What have you stewarded recently? Is there a piece of ground, a dream, or a relationship that needs your stewardship in the coming days? 


Jesse French
Restoration Project Chief of Next Steps