Getting off a Dead Horse

A few years back I heard a seminary professor say: “If the horse you are riding dies, get off.”

He then listed a number of alternatives we try instead of facing the fact that our horse is dead and we should get off. For example, we buy a new saddle, we get a bigger whip, we switch riders, we appoint a committee to study dead horses, we visit other places where they seem to be riding dead horses more effectively, or we sit around and complain about the poor status of dead horses these days.


Although his remarks were amusing, they might strike a chord in those of us who have ever ridden a dead horse. A dead horse might be a pet project, an idea, or even a job. Most of us associate the Hoover Company with vacuum cleaners. But when I  visited their small but fascinating museum in North Canton, Ohio, I learned that the company originally made horses’ harnesses and bridle reins in the early Twentieth Century. The owners, however, were astute enough to see what the automobile was going to do to their business. They were also aware of a new growing industry: carpeting. So they completely switched gears and eventually began to produce some of the first vacuum cleaners. (To this day the word “hoover” in England is synonymous with “vacuum cleaner,” so in that country one “hoovers the living room.”)

What other dead horses might we be riding? Recently our main daily newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, cut home delivery down to four days a week. It is publishing their complete newspaper on-line seven days a week. I’m wondering, is a daily home-delivered printed newspaper becoming a dead horse—that I’m refusing to get off? A similar thing happened to my classical music station which I listened to regularly. It switched from my beloved classical music to all news—at least during the day. Is a classical music station on the radio becoming a dead horse?

On a deeper level, maybe we have longed to return to the church of the past when Mass was in Latin, priests had all the answers, and nuns and lay people knew their place. Or another major dead horse might be our image of God. Perhaps it is an image that has been shaken by circumstances in our personal life or in the world. Maybe it’s an image that no longer consoles us or challenges us to grow. Our tendency might be to keep riding this image of God because it has served us well in the past. The thought of getting off at this stage in our life might be terrifying. But at times like these, it’s good to remember that the one who might be destroying our image of God is actually God!

Bernard Lee, SM, has said: “God is always beyond God, the iconoclast par excellence, who over and over breaks out of the forms and symbols of our making.” Do we trust the real God enough to get of all of our dead horses–even if one of them is our very image of God?

Have you ever ridden a dead horse? If you’re still riding it, why do you stay on? If you got off, what helped you to get off?

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  1. Kathleen Magiera on September 16, 2013 at 5:29 am

    What a great messag Sr. Melannie!

    I am riding the dead horse that I have to get along with everyone all the time at work. I often avoid conflict because it may require some disagreement with a co-worker which can stir things up. I am starting to get off the dead horse by expressing my viewpoint more often but it is hard to strike the balance between harmony and controversy. Can I ride out the storm? It is a struggle.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Dear Kathleen, This is a great example of a dead horse: an unrealistic expectation! Thank you for humbly sharing this example! Sr. Melannie

    • Charlaine on September 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Kathleen – I have found the philosophy of nonviolent communication to be very helpful in having “difficult” conversations. If you are interested, check out Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg, as a start, or go to The ideas, when put into practice, are life-changing, and give us the ability to deepen relationships through awareness of feelings and needs–our own and others’.
      – Charlaine

      • Charlaine on September 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm

        Kathleen – One more reference that might be useful: Words that Work in Business, by Lasater, that specifically targets use of nonviolent communication in the workplace. I haven’t read this particular book yet, but I just finished another book the Lasaters wrote (What We Say Matters), and found it to be well written and full of valuable information. It left me feeling empowered, clear, and peaceful.
        – Charlaine

      • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 17, 2013 at 6:18 am

        Dear Charlaine, Thank you for the resources! I suspect Kathleen and others will find them them helpful! Sr. Melannie

  2. Regina on September 16, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Very enlightening message.
    I am just getting off the dead horse in a unwanted divorce. Now I see that God allowed this situation to set me free from a comsuming and unhealthy marriage. Life is a blessing, always.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 16, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Dear Regina, Yes, relationships can become dead horses. Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us. Sr. Melannie

  3. Louise on September 16, 2013 at 11:34 am

    “the one who might be destroying our image of God is actually God!”
    Thank you, Sister, those words have helped lift a great burden from my shoulders today! I have realised I can’t be all things to all people in my family relationships, and maybe it’s okay to stop trying to be.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Dear Louise, Trying to be all things to all people is certainly a heavy burden to bear and an impossible expectation to fulfill. I’m a 2 on the enneagram, so I know what you’re talking about. Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  4. Helen Larkins on September 16, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Sr. Melannie,
    Your message is so true. Shakespeare said “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” How many times have I done the same thing over and over and expected a different outcome? I am getting off my dead horse. Your message will help me do it.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Dear Helen, I’m glad my few little words could help you take the next step…Thank you for letting me know! Sr. Melannie

  5. Janet on September 16, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    If the way you pray is becoming a dead horse like mine was, buy Sister Melanie’s book, “Just Because” and you could be riding in a whole new direction in your relationship with God. Thank you, Sister Melanie!

  6. Victor S E Moubarak on September 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

    In my experience people tend not to get off their dead horses because of fear of the unknown. Fear of what might happen if they get off.

    Thanx for a great post.

    God bless.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Dear Victor, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Fear of the unknown can prevent real living. Thanks for responding! Sr. Melannie

  7. Amy @ Love and Be Loved on September 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Dear Sr. Melannie,

    Thanks for posting this. Do you ever think it’s hard to tell which horse is living, which horse is alive and waiting for you, and which is dying or dead…? I think God challenges us in varied ways, and also offers us comforts that we seldom recognize. Many blessings and light to you ~

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Dear Amy, You raise a good point: not every lethargic horse is dead! Thanks for reminding us! Sr. Melannie

  8. Amy @ Love and Be Loved on September 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Sr. Melannie,

    I neglected to mention in my earlier comment what an excellent and necessary statement you make about God perhaps being the one destroying our image of God. And the quote by Bernard Lee, SM, bears repeating: “God is always beyond God, the iconoclast par excellence, who over and over breaks out of the forms and symbols of our making.” I feel deeply in my heart how true this must be. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Dear Amy, I’m glad the quote resonated with your heart. It’s an old quote, but one I have always appreciated. Thanks again for writing! Sr. Melannie

  9. Bethany on September 27, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Why is it that the Latin Mass is always spoken of in a derogatory way? My family and I came into the Church in 2004, partly because of the beauty and reverence of the Latin Mass which my best friend’s family attends every Sunday. Why is something outdated because it has a hierarchy? There is a lot of talk about women’s and men’s places, but what I see is a lack of respect. Why do we always seek to become more worldly? Maybe the dead horse is actually feminism in this country. It turned a lot of people against the Church.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 27, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      Dear Bethany, I’m sorry if my sentence about Latin at Mass seemed “derogatory.” I didn’t intend that. Thank you for your response. Sr. Melannie

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