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Courage in a Christmas Gift Book

Courage in a Christmas Gift Book

By Betsy Kelleher

     Can you believe a horse would save your life by standing over you when you were down, defending you from impending danger? That’s one of the true stories in a new book, Horses That Save Lives, by Cheryl Dudley, published by Skyhorse Publishing. Cheryl lives in Pullman, Washington and is a freelance writer and Director of Public Relations of the College of Education at the University of Idaho. She also has a master's degree in English literature.

     Cheryl is a former editor of the Appaloosa Horse Club’s magazine, and her first book, Legendary Appaloosa, won the American Horse Publication’s 2007 book award. She also has written articles for magazines including the Appaloosa Journal and Trail Blazer and for various Chicken Soup books. Visit her website at and her blog at

     The horse stories in this new book go beyond the usual. I cried as I read the first story about Melissa Godin, “Bold the Dream Horse.” Her fight with cancer touched deep feelings about my son’s similar struggle. I cried again at the second story, about Donna Borba and her Arab, Abu Khan. I’ve owned four Arabians in the past, and I found myself wishing I had owned Abu Khan.

     I didn’t cry over all 25 stories, but I did respect the emotional depth this book offers. Those who read it should have tissues handy. The stories are amazing and touching and they are real. As long as I’ve been around horses, I was still awed by the courage and loyalty of the horses I met in these stories. The book also is rich with descriptions of the Western United States and its wilderness, inhabitants and wildlife.

     Horses that Save Lives is a large hard-cover book with color photos and heavy quality paper. It’s the perfect gift book for Christmas, for proud display on any coffee table. This collection of stories is a tribute not only to the horses, but to the owners who shared their experiences and to the relationships between horse and human that made these stories so very special. Although each story shows the amazing power of the horse in people’s lives, this book is about the people. Readers with little or no horse knowledge would also find interesting, inspiring reading.

     I found new appreciation for the physical, emotional and spiritual problems of a Vietnam vet, a blind woman, a young girl with cerebral palsy, those recovering from abuse or serious trauma, and a young man learning to walk again after a car accident. I was moved by the courage of these people and how that courage often came from a four-legged companion.

     I talked to Cheryl on the phone and asked how she found these stories and how she came to put this book together. She had planned to collaborate with Lynn Palm on another book, when one of Lynn’s friends told her how a horse had actually saved her life. Soon afterward, another person happened to share his own similar story. Hearing these two accounts ignited the idea. Cheryl sent an email to the editor she had worked with at Lions Press on her first book. Now with Skyhorse Publishing, he told her to collect about 24 stories and go for it. Cheryl interviewed some of the story tellers herself and edited most of the stories. “I was looking for that emotional element,” she told me. “My hope was that each story would be inspirational.” Based on my own reading of the book, she was successful.

     Sherriey Miller wrote about her Appaloosa gelding, Bicardi 151, and shared her feelings about horses that all of us can surely understand: “My horses are my friends, my confidants, my loves, and my saviors. Even today, they are my reason for living, my reason for getting up and going to work, my sanity. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, exist or be who I am without them. They are my universe and my life. I love them as a mother loves a child. They aren’t just horses—they are my life.”

    The story about a young horse that went from an untrained, unsocialized and frightened loner to a trusting companion in one year inspired me in another direction. I am hoping I can adapt his training to my own mare to expand her courage!

     I’ve written this column (Sometimes God Uses Horses), for at least 13 years, and as I read this book, I became even more aware of the truth behind my column’s heading. I truly believe God often gives us a horse that we need at the moment and uses him or her to help us along our path in life. Many of the stories feature an Appaloosa horse, which is understandable, knowing Cheryl’s background. I felt a connection with this writer, because my first book was about an Appaloosa mare, and because my second book also involved compiling horse stories. Cheryl is currently working on her memoir, and so am I. Borrowing her words, we are both interested in leaving behind a meaningful legacy. She and her husband own four horses (same as my husband and I). They have two mares and two geldings (and so do we). Her husband rides cutting horses, and she loves to trail ride.

     One more thing: my book, MARES! (ya gotta love em), with “Fifty Stories to Aid & Inspire Mare Owners,” contains a story entitled “One Mare that Saved a Life” by Lisa Dennis of Gates, NC. That story would have fit perfectly into Cheryl’s book. Lisa, by the way is earning some Christmas money at book signing events in her area. She had one during an Expo in November, and will have another one at the Red Barn Farms Tack Shop in Gates on December 12th. If you know anyone in that area, please share the news.

     Reading Cheryl’s book and talking to her about it was a great shot of inspiration for me. Reading about the courage and loyalty of the horses in these stories, I find myself thinking about my own horses and how I can improve my relationships with them to help them find greater courage. I’ve often wondered where courage comes from and I think I’ve found the answer. Courage is simply the result of holding onto something and not letting go no matter what. For one person in the book, it was the memory of a dream. For another, it was words of instruction from a father. For another, it was the loyalty of a horse when his rider was in danger. Again and again, the answer came from trusting a horse’s ability to know what to do. Maybe we don’t trust our horses enough! Perhaps we don’t take the time to really know our horses or to train them properly to bring out their confident ability.

     Courage, hope, and faith are tightly interrelated within our minds and hearts. But this inner strength originates somewhere—we hear something, learn something, experience something—and we hold onto a dream or a belief in spite of fear, or pain or threat of danger. “Keep the faith” now has new meaning for me.

     Whatever gift you have received from the Heavenly powers, hold it tight and never let it drift away because of doubt or discouragement. If you have heard precious words of hope from that mysterious Holy place within, treasure them. If you have seen His miracles, believe that His power will be used as He determines. He does not always do what we want or give us what we ask for. But He gives us what we need so that we can do that which He has given us to do. If you have nothing to hope for or believe in, then seek Him until you do.

     Courage is important because a lack of it results in loss of opportunity. Many times in Scripture, God’s people missed a blessing because of a lack of faith or courage. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land, they were afraid to go forward because of the giants in the land, even though God told them to go. Those who drew back in unbelief never found that Promised Land. The few who believed God did enter with His help. When Joshua, one of the believers, took over leadership of the Israelites, God's words to him in Joshua 1:9 were: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” We all have giants in our lives, and our belief in God may be our only source of courage while fighting them.

     God’s promise to man was born in a manger of a stable. Believing that promise is the basis of our hope, our courage and our Christian faith. Whatever your own struggle is, whatever pains you feel, whatever fears are in your heart, please hold onto the belief that Jesus Christ came to save us. Don’t draw back or lose faith in what God has promised. Believe in His power, through the Holy Spirit that He has provided. Believe in His salvation, through His sacrifice on the cross. Believe in His unconditional love and mercy. Believe it is for you, personally, a Christmas gift from your Creator, and receive and accept it gratefully with all your heart.

(Originally published in theDecember 2009 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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