PENDLETON, Ore. — Though Todd Pierce is used to breaking horses as he preaches sermons, he didn’t have to fight too hard with this one.
Pierce and his company, Riding High Ministries, based in Shelley, was in Umatilla, Ore., at Two Rivers Correctional Institution.
About 60 inmates from Two Rivers watched quietly as the Idaho cowboy worked with Vixen, an unbroken mare. Within 30 minutes the horse went from having never been ridden before to patiently carrying Pierce around the corral.
Pierce travels around Oregon and Idaho presenting sermons, using the exercise of breaking an unbroken horse as a metaphor for how people can change their own conduct.
He uses the process of gaining a horse’s trust to illustrate the saving grace that Jesus Christ offers to us.
Each time he does a sermon, he uses a new horse, one that’s never been saddled or ridden. Vixen, now owned by a family in Hermiston, was rescued from a kill pen two years ago.
Vixen showed a little hesitation at first, but quickly grew comfortable with Pierce and allowed him to ride her.
Pierce said he was surprised by the outcome — in most cases, he said, he gets bucked off several times.
But he said it didn’t take away from the lesson.
“Two years ago this horse was starving, abandoned, had no future,” he said. “Someone came along and said, that one’s mine. Today, someone’s coming and saying to you, ‘You’re mine, I’m going to love you,’ “ Pierce said.
Inmate Sal Rojas watched, rapt, as Pierce rode the horse calmly around the corral.
“I thought he gave a perfect sermon,” Rojas said. “I just liked how he took his time telling the story. It gives me hope.”
Donna Niemeyer and her daughter, Emilie Stockton, own Vixen, having rescued her about two years ago.
Niemeyer said Vixen is a gentle horse by nature, but was surprised by how quickly she took to being saddled.
“Nobody’s been on her back,” she said. “It’s just shocking.”
Niemeyer said they have rescued several other animals, as well.
“Every animal deserves to have a home,” she said.
Pierce likened the struggle for the horse, and for the rider, to the things people have to struggle with as they try to improve.
“I see so many people that just do what they can to stay comfortable,” he said.
All the inmates, he said, are capable of being more than what they are now.
“You’re being asked to do things normal men can’t do,” he said. “There’s men who go back out into the world and survive. I believe you guys will go back out and be world changers.”