Learning to Trust

Every six to eight weeks, Bubba and Ryan, our farriers, come out to inspect the hooves on our donkeys, Magic and Elpis. When Magic, the “old man” of the duo, requires trimming, he gives his feet to them easily and enjoys a comfortable pedicure. Trimming Elpis, who is new to this whole process, is not yet as easy. In her defense, being handled, much less trimmed, is a new experience.

Social animals, when a donkey bonds with their caretaker, they become best of friends. Until then, their cautious nature requires lots of patience and understanding as they develop trust. When Elpis arrived here at the Cross-Dubya last year, it was two months before she would let me touch her. After six months, she finally trusted me enough to take a treat from my hand; before, I had to lay it on the ground and move away. Another month and she allowed me to place a halter on her. Two months after that, it was time to introduce her to hoof care.

A donkey’s hooves differ greatly from a horse. Finding a farrier who understands this is important. The donkey uses the front of their hooves more than a horse and must be trimmed differently to maintain proper alignment and balance. Maintaining foot and hoof health, our farrier helps ensure they can walk, run, and play with more comfort. Long or untrimmed hooves are a major cause of stumbling and can cause great discomfort and lead to injury. In the wild, horses and donkeys almost never need trimmed because they walk or run everywhere. Kept equines normally spend their days in confined spaces with soft soil and grassy pastures, resulting in less hoof wear.

When the day came for Elpis’ first trimming, Bubba and Ryan knew they were in for a long morning. Ryan (his apprentice) and I followed Bubba’s lead as he used his many years of experience to work her around the barn. Once he could touch her, the halter went on with relative ease. Leading her outside the barn to work under the shade of the pine trees was another matter. With the aid of a lasso around her hind quarters, the three of us got her outside where it was cooler. When a 600-pound donkey decides she doesn’t want to go somewhere, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Having never left the safety of the fenced pasture and gated barn before, I could understand her timid behavior.

After securing her to a tree, I gently rubbed her soft muzzle and scratched her poll and ears. As Ryan prepared his tools, Bubba and I took turns loving on her as we worked to get her settled and used to others touching her. With soft cotton rope at the ready, Ryan began with one of the front feet. By squeezing her chest, she naturally lifted her foot off the ground. When he touched her fetlock, she immediately reacted. Instructed to “give it back to her”, Ryan released and let her place her foot back on the ground. Reaching for her foot again brought another negative reaction. Before the next attempt, she shifted to one side so and placed all her weight on that leg. It was time to give her a break so she would understand we weren’t trying to force or harm her.

Many people think donkeys are stubborn. That’s just not true. They are actually intelligent and are fast learners. If you want to entertain them, give them a puzzle to solve. Mine open gates and turn on water hydrants if I don’t secure them. They also love to sneak up behind me to steal a mouthful of feed or nip at my backside or shoulder. If I suddenly turn to face them while walking across a pasture, they gleefully scamper away and wait for me to resume. Today, Elpis realizes this is not play time.

Unlike horses, a donkey doesn’t flee to escape danger. They often stand their ground and observe, almost analytical. Donkeys have a highly developed sense of self-preservation and aren’t afraid to protect themselves when they feel threatened. With exceptional memories, donkeys will remember good and bad experiences and often base their behavior on those memories. A donkey doesn’t see their behavior as being good or bad, only was it effective for them (i.e. did they get what they wanted?).

After a few more unsuccessful attempts, the farriers decide it’s time to restrain her. As shown in the photo, this involves placing a soft rope around one of her legs and using it to help teach her to release her foot to the farrier. By repeating this up and down exercise, touching her leg, foot, and hoof, the farrier is showing her he is not a threat. If she resists, he allows her to have her foot back and offers reassurance. After a few minutes, trust develops, and she freely gives Ryan her foot. Now, she can be trimmed safely. Still tied to her foot, the rope now hangs limp.

While donkeys can’t kick you with their front legs, those powerful rear ones can reach out and get you quickly from either a forward or backward position. With lots of patient movements and a calm voice, Ryan establishes a level of trust between him and Elpis. By the time he gets to the other side, the rope is no longer required.

Taking three times longer to trim than Magic, I recalled how he had to learn these same lessons five years earlier. Before leading her back to the barn, Bubba wanted to make sure this session ended on a positive note. At his urging, I spent several minutes leaning into Elpis, petting and stroking her, and giving her lots of handling, attention, and affection. You could almost feel her relaxing with each passing moment.

Packing up their gear, I realized Elpis wasn’t the only one learning today. While my little donkey learned she could trust the farriers not to harm her, Ryan and I were also learning. Bubba guided his young apprentice on how to calm and teach a frightened donkey. In that, I saw many similarities to the way the Holy Spirit has calmly guided me to learn His lessons of trust and grace. Ryan is fast-becoming a superb farrier and Bubba proudly exclaims “Ryan will soon be a much better farrier than I am.” In this apprenticeship, I see an example of how we more experienced Christians should endeavor to disciple those coming behind us. By restraining Elpis’ movements, yet giving her the freedom to learn and decide, she quickly established trust with the farrier.

In what ways has God restrained you as you learned to trust Him? Share on X

Making sure the session ended with a positive memory reminds me of how God rewards us as we learn His ways. It reminded me the great thing about valleys is that they’re surrounded by mountaintops. If I am faithful to make it through the valley of learning, God is faithful to reward me with the next mountaintop.

In the coming months, I suspect Elpis will have her challenges as she learns how to further trust the farrier. With each lesson, I pray she, and each of us, grows to trust a bit more.

God’s blessings,


Please join me each Thursday evening at 9:30 Eastern as host Coach Mark Prasek and I take a trip Around the Cross-Dubya on PJNET TV. We discuss this week’s blog post, offer insight about the lessons learned, and enjoy the fellowship of friends in the live chat room. Hope to see y’all there.


50 thoughts on “Learning to Trust”

  1. Ah, so well presented and thanks. What a treat to step out on the ranch with you and the guys. Serious business and a great analogy and thanks.
    Ol’ Papa

    1. Thank you Mr. Terry. Sometimes God can give us mighty powerful lessons in the everyday if we’ll just keep Him in the forefront of our lives. I remember asking to myself as they were wrapping up, “Lord, what all are You teaching me here today?”

    1. It never ceases to amaze me at all the ways God teaches us Mr. Monty. I often lay in bed and night and wonder how many lessons and blessings I missed this day. Thanks so much for your comments sir.

  2. Honestly, I never knew these facts about donkeys, J. D., and I find them fascinating and enlightening. So was the lesson you have for us here. God wants our trust and affection, and He ever gently guides us in the direction He wants us to take. Beautiful analogy!

    1. Thank you Ms. Martha. In all honesty, I am learning so much in my retirement years than I ever did before. 🙂 Even about donkeys and just how similar I am to them. God’s blessings ma’am.

    1. Awww shucks. Thank you Ms. Jeanne. Such kind words ma’am. I’ve got a dear Christian friend in Fairfield who have donkeys and goats if you ever get down to that area. 🙂 You can learn firsthand!

  3. Always a great illustration and lesson. And to answer your question–every day brings a new way to trust God–sometimes in little ways and sometimes in big decisions when as the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:8-we are “perplexed”, sometimes when there is silence. Thanks again for the options you are testing out. I believe I will listen next.

    1. Amen Ms. Marilyn. God doesn’t always give us clear, direct guidance or answers. I think it’s because He wants us to step back, analyze (like a donkey), and seek His wisdom rather than relying on our own. God’s blessings ma’am.

  4. I have spent some time working on horses feet over the years and still have a handful of farrier equipment. But I never worked on a donkey. I found just going out and having them practice lifting their legs and tapping on their hooves without equipment helpful for when the real time came to work on them.

    Thanks for the life lesson from the Cross-Dubya!

    1. Thank you Mr. Ben. It absolutely is a critical part of teaching an animal to trust you. Even halter breaking a calf requires that “comfort of touch” to establish trust. Well said sir.

  5. Great spiritual lessons. When I’m in the valley, the mountaintops are always in view. I trust I’ll be back there one day. Both places build my trust in the Holy Spirit and my heavenly Father in how He “handles” me during spiritual training seasons.

  6. Yvonne Morgan

    Wonderful story that will help me remember this powerful lesson on faith. Thanks for sharing this great post.

    1. Thank you Ms. Ann. I’m always amazed at how God cares so much that He finds an endless way of reaching each one of us; and using our unique talents in His service. Such a blessing!

  7. This post told me a lot of things that I didn’t know about donkeys. I previously believed the common assumption that they are stubborn. Bubba’s comment about Ryan is similar to something that my husband used to say about being in retail management (he is in a different industry now) – one of the best rewards, for him, was when someone he trained could move on and do even better than him.

    1. So pleased that you enjoyed Ms. Robin. Donkeys are a lot like me, we’re slow-minded (meaning it takes us a while to make decisions), but when they decide what they want to do, they get right after it. 😀 I agree with your Mr. James. The best managers are those who realize a big part of their job is to train their replacement. That’s what I think Christian discipleship is all about; training our replacements to ensure Christ’s cause moves forward. I just noticed, and visited, your new web site! WOW! You and Mr. James do some beautiful work. Still not sure I understand digital, but perhaps one day the four of us can have dinner and y’all can help. God’s blessings young lady.

      1. Thank you! For me, digital will never replace physical painting and drawing, but it has a few aspects that make it nice for something different. I.e., not wasting a canvas if a painting is not going well.

  8. This is a beautiful story, JD. I was struck by the loving patience required by the farriers to earn Elpis’ trust. Just like my Father has always demonstrated for me.

    I’m curious. For the next trimming, will Elpis immediately trust the process?

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Ms. Candyce. I wish I could tell you that the next time Elpis is a perfect lady who daintily offers her hooves to Ryan and enjoys a relaxing trim. In reality, learning to trust, whether that’s a farrier or God, takes time and patience. Yes, it will be less of a struggle with each visit as 6 to 8 weeks is a long time to remember. if she follows the same learning curve as Magic, I suspect it will take nearly a year before she completely trusts and surrenders to the farrier; welcoming their visit.

  9. How much we are like those donkeys. We don’t want to trust the Holy Spirit with our steps even though He is the one who wants to guide and protect us. Great thoughts from one of God’s creatures.

  10. I liked your information on donkeys. I had no idea. Your spiritual lessons are always good. It’s heartwarming to read and hear something that isn’t COVID, politics, or other bad news. Thanks

    1. Thank you Ms. Linda. There is so much bad and disturbing news everywhere, it’s good to take a break and learn something new about animals and how we might apply that to our walk with God. Thank you for your sweet comments ma’am. God’s blessings.

  11. J.D., your story reminds me a bit about our puppy. Standard poodles’ adult coats are thick and curly. So they have to be brushed and combed to the base or they mat. Strider didn’t want anything to do with being groomed. But when he watched us brush our older guy, Strider didn’t want to be left out. Little by little he’s learned to be still when I work on him.

    1. I love that Ms. Debbie. Poodles are a special breed indeed my friend. We had a little bichon/poodle mix that stole our heart years ago. Once accustomed to it, they love to be groomed. Am praying little miss Elpis comes to appreciate having her pedicure as much as Strider enjoys being groomed. How’s his shoulder recovering by the way?

  12. Great lesson in communication, J.D. Whether we realize it or not, God is always in the process of attempting to communicate with us. The more readily we realize that, the more we learn and grow. Unfortunately, He has had to tie me down and restrain me with my own foolish decisions and prevent me from long term damage while He gently brought me to a point where He could work with me a little more productively. God bless you for another one of these great, and crystal clear, messages.

    1. I’m sure glad to receive confirmation that I’m not alone in God’s having to restrain me my friend. Isn’t it wonderful to know He’s always there to stretch out His hand and pull us back? Amen! Thank you so much for all your kind support and counsel sir.

  13. My grandparents had an old donkey named Jack that I loved as a little girl, but I never saw them trimming his hooves. What incredible patience it must take and what a beautiful picture you’ve painted, J.D. I’m grateful the Lord is as patient with me and that he provides mountains in the midst of valleys.
    Blessings, Tammy

    1. Wonderful Ms. Tammy. A jack (male donkey) named “Jack.” 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words ma’am. I guess much depends on how much use their hooves get (they wear them down naturally) and other factors.

  14. And another great post, my friend. I know nothing about farming but I feel as though I’m right there with you, learning these beautiful lessons God gives through your animals and surroundings. Blessings!

  15. There are donkeys in the pastures that line the road to our house. My husband just loves them. I never thought about them needing their hooves trimmed, though. To answer your “big question”, He is restraining me from influencing my sons’ faith walks, at the moment, at least in direct ways. I admit to not liking that one bit. Not even a little bit. But, in restraining me, He still continues to work in their lives and in mine. In my case, He is forcing me to trust Him. Thank you for reminding me of that through your post today. It was a tremendous blessing!

    1. I’m with you in not liking the restrained part Ms. Gena. I too want to share all the lessons God has taught me through the years with my Ms. Diane, but often God will close my mouth for me. He recognizes she might not be ready to learn what took me many years to learn; and He may want to teach her in a much different way than He had to teach me. I came to peace with that, but still struggle. I think God knows I mean well, but He reminds me to let Him do His work from time to time. So pleased you enjoyed and took something from the post ma’am. God’s blessings.

  16. It was fun to listen to the podcast. Wish it could have been a video, but I know that would involve a whole lot more.
    You (and Ryan) showed such patience. I know the problems we had with trimming and shoeing horses, so I can relate a little bit.
    Thanks for linking it, like a parable, to Bible truth.

    1. Thank you so much for listening Ms. Jackie. I hope you found that a more convenient way of receiving my posts each week ma’am. Your feedback is most welcome and greatly appreciated ma’am. I thought you might enjoy this post with all your equine experience my friend. 🙂 Am glad I did not disappoint. God’s blessings Ms. Jackie.

  17. Great story, great analogy. Trust is earned and must be continuously maintained in order to enrich the relationship. Thing is, to earn trust, one must be patient and longsuffering.

    1. Earning trust absolutely requires both patience and longsuffering Ms. Karen. It also requires many of the other fruits of the Spirit if it is to reach its fullness. Love, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control come immediately to mind. 🙂 When a little 600 lb. donkey leans and puts her full weight against you, that’s when you silently call on the Holy Spirit to give you a little “self-control boost” so you don’t step back and let her fall or push her away. The lesson I learned is that if we want someone to trust us, we must demonstrate to them that we’re willing to hurt for them. God’s blessings gentle friend.

    J.D., your description is so vivid I felt like I was right there doing my part to try to help calm Elpis. She is such a sweetie!
    I would not have guessed she weighs 600 pounds!
    You’re such a good teacher and I learned so much in reading this post.
    Your analogy of the Holy Spirit gently leading, teaching, releasing, rewarding us is wonderful. Thank you for this blessing today. Please give Elpis a hug for me and an extra treat.

    1. I absolutely will Ms. Connie. Your “little donkey girl” is doing very well. I wish you could have seen her running back and forth in circles (at full trot) in the cool of the evening the other day. What joy she brings.

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