Ministry uses horses to send spiritual message

April 04, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

MERCERSBURG - Amye Lundgren wanted to be a horse when she was growing up in Waynesboro, Pa.

"When I found out I couldn't be one, then I wanted to work with them," she recalled.

When she and her husband, Doug, married 22 years ago, they bought a horse and learned to ride.

Now a certified riding instructor, Amye Lundgren, 44, is creator and director of Saddle Up Ministries, a nonprofit, nondenominational ministry.

In addition to learning horsemanship, participants experience biblical principles and truths without any preaching or fanfare, according to material put out by the organization.

Several students of the Manito Alternate Education centers in Adams and Franklin counties have participated in Saddle Up's programs.

"To be a good horseman, we need to learn the horse's communication style," Lundgren said. "Horses communicate with their ears. If the ear is turned towards me, he's paying attention to me, no matter where he's looking."


To learn herd dynamics, a student gets into a pen with a horse. The horse decides if the student is his peer, his leader or if he can rule over the student.

"The kid is out of his element," Lundgren said. "He can't be the 'tough guy.'"

Lundgren said that the teens with the worst backgrounds and "who have been thumped on the most" often do the best at this exercise.

"They go in with a clean slate," Lundgren said. "Their value is being measured in a unique way. Their peers are often astounded that the underdogs become the heroes of the day."

If a horse is not obeying a student, Lundgren tells him or her, "You're a substitute teacher. You haven't demonstrated your authority. Establish yourself as a teacher or they'll walk all over you."

They understand that analogy immediately, she said.

When working on Western riding, each student gets a cowboy name; when learning driving, an Amish name; and when learning to ride bareback, an Indian name.

"We have 18-year-olds who have been expelled from school for carrying a knife, and they love this," Lundgren said. "Manito brings a counselor, but there have never been any disruptions."

Regaining childhood - or finding one for the first time - is a recurring theme at Saddle Up.

"A kid is a kid," Lundgren said. "A kid with Down syndrome sits on the horse and smiles. And when the drug addict gets on, there is the same smile of complete delight."

Saddle Up uses mostly draft horses because their calm, gentle spirit helps when dealing with different abilities. The herd includes five Percherons and several Arabians.

The ministry is a family effort. The Lundgrens' daughter Lydia, 19, attends Thompson Institute and helps out behind the scenes at home, training and taking care of the horses.

Sean, 17, assists with the audio-visual equipment, while Chelsea, 15, is "Mom's right hand," Lydia said, helping to instruct students.

Lundgren's husband also works behind the scenes when he's not working at Washington Dulles International Airport.

"He's the facilities guy," Lundgren said. "He loves being with the kids and helping out with the traveling drill team."

All 10 of the horses at Saddle Up are donated, including a $40,000 Irish sport horse named Tribute. Tribute had surgery and is considered "blemished," Lundgren said, but he is perfect for Saddle Up's purposes. With his incredibly smooth gait, Tribute is "a higher-level horse," Lundgren said. "The kids can go to a competitive level with him. He's our jumping horse."

A unique aspect of the Saddle Up program is its equine drama team, which performs routines to music.

"The kids love it," Lundgren said. "And the horses know the music cues, so they enjoy it as well."

Lundgren said she enjoys seeing youngsters come in to get something for themselves, then learning that they want to give something to others.

"Ninety-five percent of them want to be part of this and serve," she said. "That's unusual in this world."

Located south of Mercersburg, the Lundgren family, the horses and the ministry plan to move to an 18-acre farm in the Quincy, Pa., area later this month. The new facility will open April 26.

A variety of courses for all levels and abilities are taught at Saddle Up. No one is denied participation due to lack of funds.

For more information, call Lundgren at 717-328-3662 before April 17, or at 717-762-8951 on or after April 17. Information also may be obtained by sending an e-mail to

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