At age fourteen, two events in Bob Toomer’s life shaped his future ministry: he received Christ as his Savior and he rode his first colt. Currently Bob serves as a missionary with Baptist Church Planters, Elyria, Ohio, ministers in Utah at Castle Dale Independent Church, and trains and shoes horses. Through his horse training demonstrations, Bob introduces people to spiritual truths and to a saving relationship with Christ. He received a bachelor of science degree in animal science from Colorado State University and a master of divinity from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa. Bob and his wife, Penny, are the parents of four children—Bethany, Melissa, Benjamin, and Heidi.
Your career path of being both a missionary and a horse trainer is unique. How did that combination happen?
I believe God called me to Utah to help churches. In our tent-making ministry, my family and I are assisting our third church. We have some financial support as missionaries, but for the most part I make our living through horse training.
So ministry has determined where you have located?
Yes, we have looked for churches that have needs, and I have started shoeing and training horses in those communities.
Tell us about your involvement in working with horses.
I grew up on a ranch in Colorado, so ranching and training horses were part of my background. In seminary I told the Lord that I was willing to give up working with horses totally to serve Him. Even so, the Lord led me to help in setting up a horsemanship program at a Christian camp in Utah. I wanted the entire program to reinforce and emphasize Biblical teaching by spiritual applications. At that time I needed income, so I started shoeing horses, which gave me an opportunity to talk with people in the community (predominantly Mormon) and to share the gospel.
I learned of a horse training method where the horse is worked at liberty, totally free, in a round pen. As I observed that method, I believed it pictured what God wants to do in the lives of people when He draws them to Him, when they come to a saving knowledge of Christ and yield their lives to Him for total Lordship. With practice and the help of good Christian friends, I learned how to use that method of training and how to share the spiritual message with it.
You travel to different areas to present training clinics sponsored by churches. How do you find horses?
Before we go into an area to do a training clinic, I work with the pastor or someone in that church who has contact with people who work with horses. Then I let the person select a horse. I like to have a church member assist in finding the horse because it gives him or her contact with the community. The people who furnish the horse normally come to the training and often bring others who are interested. Many times these people are unsaved. We have the opportunity to show and to tell them God’s truths.
What are you trying to achieve in the round pen clinic?
I have two goals as I work the colt. First I want to help the colt, which has never been saddled or ridden, develop into a useful horse for its owner. This usually requires taking the colt to the point that I can saddle and ride it for the first time. My second goal is to work with that horse in a way that illustrates how God works with us so the audience will have a clear picture of what God wants to do in their lives. The round pen is set up so the audience can see the whole process. The spectators have various levels of spiritual interest and understanding. In the process of working the colt, I try to lay the foundation of Who God is and what He expects from His creation. I usually include the themes of God the Creator, God the Author of order and authority, consequences of right and wrong, fearing God, trusting God, and peace.
How does your interaction with the horses illustrate spiritual principles?
When working with the horses, I try to illustrate Proverbs 19:21: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” The horse is free when it enters the pen. As I bring something into its life that it doesn’t like, its natural inclination is to run from me. When I add pressure to confine the horse, such as a halter or saddle, the horse will fight that pressure and resist what I am asking it to do. My goal is to bring that horse to the point where it is willing to work with me and do what I ask. Ultimately my plan (my “counsel”) will stand.
The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. Most horses will come in with a pretty healthy fear of me. That fear helps them to become wise, mature, valuable horses. Also the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” [Proverbs 3:5, 6]. I want the horse to let me direct its path. It will do that by personally acknowledging me and trusting in me, not by working from its natural inclinations. As I work with the horse, it acknowledges me by locking its inside ear on me. At this point the horse may not know a lot about me, but it is starting to realize it might have to deal with me. When the horse begins working its mouth and licking its lips, it is communicating, “I don’t want a big conflict; I can accept what you are asking of me to this point.” As I keep working with that horse, it will eventually bow its head in a submissive manner, signaling that it is willing to do whatever I ask of it. If I treat it correctly and help it to see that it can trust me with its life, the horse will usually come in off the fence, join up, and follow me. When a horse learns the right balance of fear and trust, it will basically be willing to do what I ask it to do.
“One of the main messages that comes out as I work with horses is the need to totally yield our lives to God. My ministry is not just evangelistic, but a message of total surrender to God.”
As you demonstrate your training method, do you weave in the spiritual applications as you go?
Yes, different things come up when I’m working with the horse, and I will draw comparisons to the way God works with us. For example, sometimes a horse will trust me and walk with me, and then suddenly it will go off running again. In those situations the horse is double-minded: it is thinking about trusting me, but it goes back to trusting itself. The horse’s response helps the people to understand the truth of James 1:7 and 8, where God addresses our doubting Him and wavering in our faith. We are double-minded and unstable and will not receive what we are asking of God.
Another example is when I’m patting a horse down. I will go all over that horse, even rubbing an area where it might not like to be touched. That horse has to yield its whole self to me, or there are going to be problems. If the horse is afraid and doesn’t trust me when I’m riding it, and I reach back and touch its hip, the horse might start bucking. I point out that just as that horse needs to give every part of its life to me, so we must yield every part of our lives to God.
Another opportunity to talk about a spiritual principle is when I bring the saddle into the horse’s life. I don’t want the horse to worry about the saddle but to trust me and walk with me through the situation. I will take care of the saddle. God wants us to have that kind of trust in Him when new situations come into our lives.
What feedback do you get from unsaved people who attend your training clinics?
Usually they talk to me about the horse-breaking part of the demonstration. From there I try to find out what their spiritual needs are and bring in examples from the training session that would help them find answers to their needs. The demonstration gives the people who invited unsaved guests a concrete, visual link to keep talking about the gospel. I tell the audience that the spiritual application of the demonstration breaks down at a certain point because the horse does not have an eternal soul, a sin nature, or the need for salvation as we do. Then I explain that our relationship with God starts by trusting Christ to forgive us for our sins, and it continues by trusting Christ and walking with Him. The instant the horse initially trusts me and joins me pictures the childlike faith that we need to trust Christ for our salvation.
Laypeople may be wondering if they could play a more significant role in ministry. What would you say to them?
God has created each of us and equipped us with special talents to serve Him in a certain way. We can touch people’s lives with those special talents. Our priority in life should be God and doing His work. God says we should preach the gospel wherever we go. We need to be looking for those opportunities everywhere. In whatever job God has given us, the most important thing is not the job itself but doing God’s work through our job. We can look at our lives and can use for the Lord whatever He has put into our hands. Horse training is important to me, but the real significance comes not from working with the horse but from sharing Christ with the person who brings the horse. As I’m working with the horse, I pray, “God, what opportunity are You going to give me with people?”
How has the Lord used your willingness to serve Him to stretch your faith?
I am not naturally the type of person who would travel and speak in front of people. However, God has given me something worthwhile to talk about because of Christ and the gospel. It’s not easy traveling and being in different places. Penny and our kids have been a great help in traveling with me and assisting with the clinics. We work as a team; it’s a family ministry.
Daria Greening is executive assistant to the national representative of the GARBC.
This article was published in the February 2004 Baptist Bulletin. To contact Bob Toomer regarding his round pen clinics as an outreach for your church or Vacation Bible School, find him on Facebook at Bob Toomer Horse Training or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.