"Shine Like Stars In The World" Philippians 2:15
Happy Trails Pardner

'Happy Trails' Pardner

Kentuckian hands reins to Christ, now shares gospel on horseback

Editor’s Note: As part of the Western Recorder’s coverage of evangelistic outreach efforts during this year’s World Equestrian Games in Lexington, we are profiling some of Kentucky’s equine-related ministries.

By Dannah Prather
Partnerships Editor

Burna—In the 18th century, preachers would use horses as transportation to connect with people who needed to hear the gospel. The mode of transportation has changed, but pastors such as Chris Clarke still use horses today as “vehicles” to share the gospel.

SINGING COWBOY MSC missionary and founder of Happy Trails Ministry Chris Clarke, seen here at last year’s national Woman’s Missionary Union annual meeting in Louisville, uses music and horses to share the gospel with those in the equine community, often preaching from atop a horse. Clarke and his family frequently take their ministry to horse shows, auctions and rodeos in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Clarke, founder of Happy Trails Ministry and chaplain to horse enthusiasts, sometimes preaches from horseback, tying off the reins and riding without the use of his hands.

He explains to those listening that if the horse trusts its rider, it is willing to surrender control, even if the direction seems uncertain. Similarly, a child of God will surrender to God’s instruction, even when the path seems unclear.

Along with that gospel message—and the equine visual aid—Clarke will pack his guitar, a supply of bottled water labeled with Scripture, and a few boxes of New Testaments (“The Way for Cowboys”) and gospel tracts (“The Simple Plan of the Master Horseman”). Then he and his wife, Sheila, are ready to hit the road to a horse auction, show or rodeo.

“We as Southern Baptists are learning that if (people) are going to be reached, we’ve got to go where they are,” said Clarke, a former minister of music and youth.

This path of ministry was not what Clarke expected as a student at Campbellsville College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

His family’s interest in horses did not strike him as related to the ministry. Then, the Clarkes’ youngest child, Laura, began competing in American Quarter Horse Association youth events.

Clarke said the lack of ministries “reaching out to these people in a purposeful, ongoing way,” became more than a concern; it was a call from God.

Horse enthusiasts are “not in church on Sundays,” he said, noting that events usually occur on weekends. Clarke now brings church to them.

When he mentioned to his wife the conviction that God was leading him to leave congregational ministry, Clarke said his wife’s response was, “It’s about time you caught up with the rest of us.”

“Sheila thought I was about a year behind,” Clarke explained.

Happy Trails Ministry is in its sixth year. In 2009, Clarke, now a Southern Baptist Mission Service Corps missionary, organized worship services at nearly 30 equine events around Kentucky and outside the commonwealth. He also spoke at more than 40 churches.

His guitar skills and experience as a worship leader transfer well to any setting, indoor or outdoor, and event organizers have been eager to welcome him.

“I’ve never had a horse show manager tell me I couldn’t do Cowboy Church,” Clarke said.

Another aspect to the ministry is riding lessons at the Burna stable. Clarke’s sister, Lori, helps out. Students of any age are welcome. Fees are put back into the ministry to care for the horses used in the lessons.

MSC missionaries are self-funded servants. Clarke said about a dozen churches and a few individuals support Happy Trails but this year’s unusually long and cold winter kept students away from the stable.

Happy Trails has begun an “Adopt-a-Horse” option for ministry partners to help maintain enough horses to continue offering lessons—with the Christian mentoring and Bible-verse activities that go along with them. A gift of $25 to $50 will care for one horse for about a month. Clarke has details via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Through prayer, Kentucky Baptists unable to provide financial support to an equine ministry still can partner with Happy Trails and evangelistic efforts planned for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington this fall, Clarke said.

“For our state to be able to host something on that scale … what an opportunity,” he said. “There will be many people coming from places that don’t have access to the gospel.”

For details on how to become involved in WEG ministries, visit the Affiliated International Ministries Web site at www.aimky.org.

With information from Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union

Western Recorder issue date: April 27, 2010