Yesterday, a colleague shared this wonderful story from the life of Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972). If you love horses like I do, you’ll get even more of a kick out of this one. It appeared in the inaugural issue of the New Era magazine, published January 1971. I particularly like the point he makes at the end.
When I was a boy, we had a horse named Junie. She was one of the most intelligent animals I ever saw. She seemed almost human in her ability. I couldn’t keep her locked in the barn because she would continually undo the strap on the door of her stall. I used to put the strap connected to the half-door of the stall over the top of the post, but she would simply lift it off with her nose and teeth. Then she would go out in the yard.
There was a water tap in the yard used for filling the water trough for our animals. Junie would turn this on with her teeth and then leave the water running. My father [Joseph F. Smith] would get after me because I couldn’t keep that horse in the barn. She never ran away; she just turned on the water and then walked around the yard or over the lawn or through the garden. In the middle of the night, I would hear the water running and then I would have to get up and shut if off and lock Junie up again.
My father suggested that the horse seemed smarter than I was. One day he decided that he would lock her in so that she couldn’t get out. He took the strap that usually looped over the top of the post and buckled it around the post and under a crossbar, and then he said, “Young lady, let’s see you get out of there now!” My father and I left the barn and started to walk back to the house; and before we reached it, Junie was at our side. She then went over and turned the water on again.
I suggested that now, perhaps, she was about as smart as either one of us. We just couldn’t keep Junie from getting out of her stall. But that doesn’t mean she was bad, because she wasn’t. Father wasn’t about to sell or trade her, because she had so many other good qualities that made up for this one little fault.
The horse was as reliable and dependable at pulling our buggy as she was adept at getting out of the stall. And this was important, because Mother was a licensed midwife. When she would get called to a confinement somewhere in the valley, usually in the middle of the night, I would have to get up, take a lantern out to the barn, and hitch Junie up to the buggy.
I was only about ten or eleven years old at the time; and that horse had to be gentle and yet strong enough to take me and Mother all over the valley, in all kinds of weather. One thing I never could understand, however, was why most of the babies had to be born at night and so many of them in winter.
Often I would wait in the buggy for Mother, and then it was nice to have the company of gentle old Junie. This experience with this horse was very good for me, because early in life I had to learn to love and appreciate her for herself. She was a wonderful horse with only a couple of bad habits. People are a lot the same way. None of us is perfect; yet each of us is trying to become perfect, even as our Father in heaven. We need to appreciate and love people for themselves.
Maybe you need to remember this when you evaluate your parents or teachers or ward and stake leaders or friends—or brothers and sisters. This lesson has always stayed with me—to see the good in people even though we are trying to help them overcome one or two bad habits.