Cody Nance: I guess the enemy is good at pulling a blindfold over your eyes, and making life seem like it’s okay where you’re at. But it wasn’t. That’s when I knew I needed that change, and I knew I couldn’t do it without Him.
Joyful Connection with All God’s Creatures: Bull Rider Cody Nance and HIS Haven Ranch – Episode #177
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests share how their lives have been uniquely blessed by friendships with both humans and animals, and how these special connections have helped them understand and strengthen their relationship with God—bull rider Cody Nance and Laurie Baer and Janice Larsen of HIS Haven Ranch.
First up, Cody Nance has lived nearly his whole life at the rodeo, and is ranked #25 in the world for his skill as a bull rider. He recounts how, in his younger years, he lost track of God, but then found his way back to Him after realizing how hard it was to make life work without Him.
Where I grew up in Paris, Tennessee, it was a pretty small town, and we didn’t have a lot of cattle. I didn’t rodeo, but my stepfather did, and he was the one that got me into rodeo. I used to team rope and got into riding bulls at about fourteen. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Where I grew up, we trained a lot of horses, and messed around with a lot of horses. I think that helped me establish that foundation.
The first thing that drew me to bull riding was my step dad. He was my hero when I was a little kid. I was two years old when he and my mom met, and he rode bulls, and I just thought that was the best thing ever. Then he went on to judge a bunch of rodeos, and that’s how I got in bull riding. He had a barrel, and that barrel simulated a bull buck, and we’d get on it and play. He was the one that talked my mom into letting me get on my first bull. She didn’t really like it a whole lot, but she’s very thankful that [my stepdad let me do it], because now here I am, still doing what I love sixteen years later. I’ve been very blessed. I’ve made the world finals in Vegas. I’ve been able to be used on a platform like I’ve never imagined before, and I’m just thankful that God is allowing me to do that.
“I’ve been able to be used on a platform like I’ve never imagined before, and I’m just thankful that God is allowing me to do that.” – Cody Nance
“I lost track of the most important thing.”
When I was younger, we would go to church quite often. I always felt that the spirit was strong and I knew God and I knew His voice. I knew a little bit about the Word, but that was the one thing I think I was lacking the most. Later on in life, whenever I got down the wrong path and got away from church, but not our faith so much, we just didn’t talk about it and we didn’t have fellowship like we should have. It allowed me to, I guess, drift away a little. So I got into a lot of hectic things in my life that sent me straight down that path, and I was doing some drugs and drinking and running around, just being a young guy. I feel like I knew God as a young man, but I was taught in a lot of wrong ways. I was taught more fear for the enemy than I was love for God. I feel like that was the biggest issue with it, and I feel like it affected me in some way, as far as feeling like I needed to do something to please God.
I do believe that God saved me when I was young, but I believe I lost track of the most important thing, and that was being faithful in my love for Him and His worship. I didn’t realize what my life had gone to.
“I do believe that God saved me when I was young, but I believe I lost track of the most important thing, and that was being faithful in my love for Him and His worship.” – Cody Nance
God stays close to us, always
Later, when I got saved in 2009, the enemy started in on me. I continued to read, and the Bible says that the enemy is like a lion seeking to devour his prey. And the first thing he’s going to try to devour is your mind, because your mind stems to the rest of your body.
I’m not going to let the enemy steal my joy, and the joy of the Lord is my strength. I’m not worried about what the enemy has. God’s going to protect me, it says so in Psalms 91, and I believe that with all my heart.
This amazing journey that I’ve been on, following the Lord, I’m just so thankful that He is there and He’s always there. Because if He wasn’t, then obviously, I would have been devoured a long time ago. And that fear is paralyzing, so you’ve got to have faith. That faith presses me on.
Narrator: In his hardest moments, Cody has learned, if he allows himself to stay close to God, God will stay close to him. Cody reads from the September 18th entry of Jesus Calling which talks about this very thing.
Seek to please Me above all else. Let that goal be your focal point as you go through this day. Such a mind-set will protect you from scattering your energy to the winds. The free will I bestowed on you comes with awesome responsibility. Each day presents you with choice after choice. Many of these decisions you ignore and thus make by default. Without a focal point to guide you, you can easily lose your way. That’s why it is so important to stay in communication with Me, living in thankful awareness of My Presence. You inhabit a fallen, disjointed world, where things are constantly unraveling around the edges. Only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from coming unraveled too.
I feel like I solely rely on God, and I feel like when I nod my head, and I’m strapped to the back of that animal, he’s a two thousand pound animal jumping in the air and kicking, I have no direction of which way he’s going to go, and that’s just the life God leads me down. Sometimes it gets a little wild. But He’s always there and He’s always taking care of me. That bull, he may not always be trying to take care of me, but that’s why we’ve got angels in the outfield, right?
“[When] I’m strapped to the back of a [2,000 lb. bull] jumping in the air and kicking . . . sometimes it gets a little wild. But He’s always there and He’s always taking care of me.” – Cody Nance
Narrator: To find out more about Cody or see where he’s riding near you, follow Cody Nance on social media.
We’ll be right back with Laurie Baer & Janice Larsen from HIS Haven Ranch after a brief message about a way you can connect with other Jesus Calling readers each week in prayer.
Did you know that Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling, prays for her readers each day? In that spirit, we want to extend the Jesus Calling prayer community out to you in a more personal way. Each Tuesday morning, you can dial in to the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call, where the team from Jesus Calling and special guests will minister to us during a ten-minute call to reflect on that day’s passage from Jesus Calling, read scripture references, and pray together for each other and our world. Prayer call times are 8:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Central, 6:00 a.m. Mountain, and 5:00 a.m. Pacific and are for U.S. only.
For more information on the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call, or to submit prayer requests, please visit www.jesuscalling.com/prayer-call.
Narrator: From the time they were little girls, Laurie Baer and Janice Larsen had a deep love of horses, and today they share that love at HIS Haven Ranch, a faith-based nonprofit that uses horses to help struggling kids find their way. Laurie and Janice tell us how caring for an animal is sometimes the best way to learn how to care for ourselves, and they share how they’ve watched God use animals to transform the lives of those who are most vulnerable.
Laurie Baer: My name is Laurie Baer and I’m the chief operating officer at HIS Haven Ranch. I have about forty years of experience working with horses and caring for horses, and I’ve been on the ranch team from the day it started back in 2006.
I live and breathe horses. It’s what I love. It’s what I do. And they have been such a big part of my life that it seems impossible to not share them with other people.
Janice Larsen: I’m Janice Larsen. I’m a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Laurie called me and asked if I would consider being a grandmother figure at His Haven for the foster children that would be coming in the summer. I immediately said yes, and I’ve been I’ve been in love with horses like Laurie since I was a very young girl. [They are] one of God’s most beautiful creatures to me, and there’s always something to learn about horses and each other, because just like people, they have their own personality.
Founding a Ranch to Help Kids
Laurie Baer: HIS Haven Ranch has been around since 2006, and our founder’s name is Heidi McGraw. Her husband Kevin was a pastor in our community, and he also was instrumental in creating the foundation and nonprofit HIS Haven Ranch. Heidi and I, as God would do as only God can do, we were neighbors and we didn’t know we were neighbors until we were picking up our kids from school one day. We got to talking, and in the office while we were waiting for our kids for the bell to ring, lo and behold, we were both horse lovers and we were stay at home moms. We had some time to actually be in the saddle when our kids were at school, so we started riding horses together, riding the gravel roads in our little neck of the woods, just talking about our childhoods. I had no idea that she and I grew up in similar situations where it was a very difficult life, and our families as a child were very difficult. We both had extenuating circumstances, whether it be addiction or mental health issues. We had a difficult childhood growing up.
One of the things that kept both Heidi and I from going off the deep end or going off the rails was having that time with our horse, taking care of our horse, spending that time with our horse, crying in our horses mane. Riding our horse was a piece of that, but it was the total care of that horse [that made a difference]. The way that the horse looks at you and accepts you and doesn’t try to fix you, it just understands you and definitely never betrays your confidence. I think of all the things that I told my horse, and she just looked at me like she totally understood what I was talking about, and she let me get all that stuff off my little chest. Our four-legged friends gave us a picture and a model of something that God could do on a greater level.
“Our four-legged friends gave us a picture and a model of something that God could do on a greater level.” – Laurie Baer
Heidi and I were two moms with a couple of horses, and we really felt compelled. There was a rash of suicides in our little community, and they were young people. We’re talking middle school, high school age. And we started looking at solutions to how we could have influence in their lives, and maybe bring the same type of healing that we had in our lives through the touch of a horse and through the love of a Savior.
Our mission was to make a place that would empower and transform lives through healing and the Savior. That’s what HIS stands for, Healing in the Savior. By doing that, we create a place, an organization, that does one-on-one mentoring with anybody who is struggling with anxiety, depression, self-interest, behavior, suicidal thoughts, whatever it was. It could be loneliness. Our perimeters are wide. [The kids] had to be willing to come to the ranch and help.
“Our mission was to make a place that would empower and transform lives through healing and the Savior.” – Laurie Baer
Horses Are Mirrors
Laurie Baer: When you’re working with a horse, I feel like they train you up in grace. They train you up in how to not only be a receiver of grace, but to be a dispenser of grace, too, because when you make a mistake on a horse, that horse goes, “Oh, that’s okay.” They don’t react to it, they just let you get back on course. It really is humbling, because we know how big they are, and we know that they are a prey animal, and they could easily get away from us or harm us. [Horses] choose to partner with us in our healing.
When we look at who the Lord brings out to the ranch, it’s typically somebody who’s feeling hurt, feeling a little disconnected. Perhaps they’ve gotten some labels at school. You know, I think for a lot of our are our riders, they haven’t had a model of how to work through conflict and how to fight the good fight, to fight so that everybody wins. Working with the horse, you learn quickly that you’ve got to learn how to communicate and regulate. And when we learn how to communicate and regulate with a non-verbal animal, it makes it a little bit easier to do it with the verbal pieces of our life, and the people that we’re encountering. We see a wide variety.
We have two hundred and twenty-seven registered riders right now. We have pastors’ kids. We have foster kids. We have kids who live with their mom. We have kids who live with their dad. We have kids who live with their grandparents. We have kids who live with their aunts. I mean, it really is about creating a sense of family in a culture where family has become [broken].
When the riders come, they don’t just get on a horse that’s all saddled up. They actually have to help take care of the horse, which means they might be mucking a stall, they might be filling feed pans, they might be picking up dry slot, they might be doing hay. Whatever they mean to do that day, whatever had to be done that day, they would be helping with it, and they would also get their own horse ready. Nobody would do it for them. Part of our program is empowering individuals to be able to do things, and one of the things that we wanted to empower them to be able to do was get their own horse ready and ride their own horse.
So what makes our program unique is that not only do we use the horse to bring about a therapeutic relaxation and regulation in a person’s body, but we use the Word of God. The first fifteen minutes of our ninety minute session, the mentor sits down with a Bible study that the Lord has downloaded them with. It might be Jesus Calling, it might be scripture, it might be some other resource that the Lord gives them. And we will sit down and personally spend time with the [students], looking at what God’s Word is saying and what application it has for their particular season of life, in whatever situation they’re in. Then after we start with the Word of God, we go right to work. We get those hands busy, and we let them ponder and chew on what we just talked about. The whole rest of our session is spent chewing on the Word of God and just letting that [hit] deep. When they’re on the back of that horse, they get perspective. We sow in the seed of the Word of God before they can get into that saddle. We pray that the perspective that [our riders] have will be an eternal perspective, so we’ll use a horse and we use the Word of God. And they seem to work really well together.
“We pray that the perspective that [our riders] have will be an eternal perspective, so we’ll use a horse and we use the Word of God. And they seem to work really well together.” – Laurie Baer
Reaching Even More Hearts with Jesus Calling
Janice Larsen: I can’t tell you the exact year, but it was probably around 2003 or 2004 [when] one of our friends from horse showing, Randy, came over one day to our trailer and gave me a Jesus Calling book.
He would buy them by the case. He was handing them out. And I started reading it every day. It just spoke to me so personally about everything that was going on in my life, and things that would happen in that day [made me] think back on that reading. I like Jesus Calling so much, because it has the scriptures on the bottom. It is really a wonderful, wonderful devotion to me.
Laurie Baer: I think for a lot of kids, it’s a turning point to know that this is what a father’s voice really sounds like, because we don’t know what we don’t know. Jesus Calling makes it really easy for us to dispense the gospel with Sarah’s words in God’s voice, and it just makes it so much easier for us to do this job for the kingdom.
Janice Larsen: This is a reading from Jesus Calling:
Relax in My peaceful Presence. Do not bring performance pressures into our sacred space of communion. When you are with someone you trust completely, you feel free to be yourself. This is one of the joys of true friendship. Though I am Lord of lords and King of kings, I also desire to be your intimate Friend. When you are tense or pretentious in our relationship, I feel hurt. I know the worst about you, but I also see the best in you. I long for you to trust Me enough to be fully yourself with Me. When you are real with Me, I am able to bring out the best in you: the very gifts I have planted in your soul. Relax and enjoy our friendship.
When I read a passage like this, I know that I can come to Him, trust Him completely, and He frees me up to be that friend to those people just like He is to me, and I know that I hurt Him if I do not bring all these things to Him. That’s just like every reading in Jesus Calling. It speaks to you so personally and brings you to the point where you know that you feed Him every day, every minute, every second. He wants to be our friend. He wants to be that love of our life. He needs to, just like we need, so that’s why we were created.
And like Janice says, it’s not our job to judge the growth. It’s not our job to judge the fruit. It’s our job to sow the seed, to water the seed, and that means giving God’s Word and dispensing it freely.
“It’s not our job to judge the growth. It’s not our job to judge the fruit. It’s our job to sow the seed, to water the seed, and that means giving God’s Word and dispensing it freely.” – Janice Larsen
The Bible shows us family is, and really helps the [students] be able to navigate. Just because things are different doesn’t make them wrong. You know, that’s when we really have to go to God’s Word and say, “Lord, this is what I have to work with. This is where I’m at.” And we get to watch God do some amazing things when we coach through the use of a horse and through the Word of God.
We’re All Seeking Connections
Laurie Baer: We found that people use the term at-risk youth a lot. I really disliked that term, because we’re all at risk. We’re all at risk for something, if we’re being honest with ourselves. We all have vulnerabilities. We’re all at risk. And, you know, these labels that we give kids, we call them attention-seeking. But instead of calling it an attention-seeking behavior, I’ve started to look at it as a connection-seeking behavior.
“We’re all at risk for something, if we’re being honest with ourselves. We all have vulnerabilities.” – Laurie Baer
Janice Larsen: After these little riders open up a little bit, they’re so eager. The horses just just open them up. I always referred to it like a rose opening up and all the petals get exposed, all their little talents get exposed. It’s such an honor to do it, that God has chosen us to do this.
Narrator: To learn more about the work Laurie and Janice are doing at HIS Haven Ranch and how you can support them, please visit hishavenranch.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories about the power of connecting with animals, check out our interviews with animal rescue advocate Lavonne Redferrin and country music artist Irlene Mandrell.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent share why they endeavor to bring messages of hope to the people who need it most, and remind us that we can never know what people might be going through.
Dailey & Vincent: We get testimonies all the time saying, “I’m going through chemo and your music got me through just being there, taking these chemo treatments and this being sick. You make me feel better. I feel the presence of the Lord through the music that you guys sing.”
And I think that’s where the music speaks volumes. I think it’s global. It’s not just in the United States, but I think it’s a universal language, that music speaks to everybody.