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Students from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan got lessons on leadership and evangelism from horses.

“My connection with horses is fairly immediate and direct through my wife,” said Todd Statham, campus minister of Resonate Global Mission partner CRC Campus Ministry at UBCO. His wife, Annika Voeltz, owns Lightbulb Coaching. She rescued four wild horses to assist in coaching people through trauma or challenges they face in the workplace.

One day, Todd and Annika discussed whether working with horses could help Todd’s students better share their faith. Using funds from a Resonate Innovation Fund Grant, he and Annika developed workshops and invited students to join, including UBCO’s Power to Change club (P2C).

“They’re really the only Christian club on campus that makes an effort to go out and meet strangers and share the gospel with them. I really applaud them for it,” said Todd. But sharing the gospel doesn’t come without challenges. While some of these students’ peers are open to the gospel message, others shut them down.

Todd and Annika believed that horses could help equip students to better share the gospel by learning to develop trust with people.

An Innovative Idea

“The thing that’s fun about using animals for therapy and education is they have a way of disarming us,” said Todd. “Horses in particular are incredibly sensitive animals. They’re flight animals so they’re used to keeping close attention to their surroundings and the people they interact with … It’s quite a remarkable way to see your presence and your actions reflected.”

Todd and Annika sent the students out into the pasture to approach one of the four grazing horses and lead it around the enclosure—but the task was easier said than done.

“The horse is 1,000 pounds or something. It’s not going to move if it doesn’t want to,” said Todd. “A number of the students went into the relationship with the horse expecting the horses would be like one of the peers at the university and simply walk away from them.”

That’s exactly what happened when the students walked out into the pasture toward the horses: the horses looked up at them, but continued grazing. One horse walked away from a student to feed somewhere else.

“Before they could lead the horse anywhere, they had to spend a lot of time with the horse and figure out what was unique about that horse,” said Todd.

Leading a Horse

The students spent the rest of the day working through exercises that would help them develop trust with the horse so the horse would follow them around the pasture. The students quickly recognized that each of the four horses had different personalities—one liked to be scratched behind its ears and one didn’t like to be touched at all.

“Most of them realized pretty quickly they had to work quite slowly,” said Todd. “It was spending time with this animal and letting that animal recognize you were someone they could trust … we found that as a great analogy for how we lead in general, but also in how we lead others to Christ.”

Micah Beatty, the student president of P2C, had a powerful takeaway when he was trying to lead a horse.

“No matter how hard I pulled, the horse would not budge,” said Micah. Eventually, Annika came over and offered Micah a few tips.

“Originally, I had been taking a few steps, and when the horse wouldn’t move I would turn around and ‘check in with him’ to see what the matter was or if I was doing something wrong,” said Micah. “Annika recommended to just look forward and not keep turning around which was showing myself to be uncertain.”

Micah tried again, resisting the urge to look back, and the horse followed him at a trot around the pasture. The exercise prompted Micah to look critically at his leadership in P2C and how others perceived his actions. He said that he’ll put into practice the new techniques and skills he learned while working with the horses.

“I’m very grateful to Resonate’s Innovation Fund for allowing me to create these workshops along with my wife and impact these students,” said Todd. “[As Christians, we] have a story we want to share, but we can’t fast-track that. We have to respect the person we’re with and pay attention to their needs and wants and go along at their pace.”

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