Writings by Cole Huffman


How Can You Compete With Horses?

As I don’t believe in karma, I categorize the vacation mishap as more or less a misadventure. It can happen to anyone taking an active family vacation, venturing out into “things dangerous to come to,” as a spin on the old Life magazine motto has it. Vacation is a time to go to a place we don’t normally go and there do things we don’t normally do.

 A friend was telling me about a vacation of his involving hang-gliding. Some things are too dangerous to come to, at least for me. But I’ll get into a raft and shoot the rapids, though I have been tossed out—punched in the solar plexus once by a Class 4 rapid. I’ll hike into bear country, though an unseen mama observing us at a closer-than-comfortable range once growled at Lynn and me (we were getting too close to her cubs, visible to us at about 100 yards). And I’ll ride horses, though I’ve read Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

When our family goes to the thickets of the Smokies or Rockies, it sometimes includes a horseback outing. In Colorado this summer, we paid fare for a two-hour sunset ride. Three other families and a dating couple completed our group. We don’t ride horses a lot, but we’ve done so enough that none of us feel like novices.

Horseback riding is billed as a pleasant thing to do but the stable still makes you sign a waiver and suggests wearing the helmets they provide. Being thrown from trail horses is unlikely, but then some have names like Maverick and Rodeo and Wildfire, just to keep us on our toes in the stirrups, I suppose.

I got Big John. Lynn got Angel. The kids rode Jazz, Dan, and Maddie, mellow horses all. Everything was going along nicely until we got into a meadow. The last horse in our line suddenly rushed past us all, riderless. My horse began a spirited trot in response, as did Lynn’s and the kids’, and the horses under the couple riding just behind us—an NFL lineman (49ers) and his NFL cheerleader girlfriend (Broncos), Christians with whom I had an enjoyable ride-along conversation.

It took about a minute to restore the order of the line. The fallen rider was a dad trying to show his family a good time on a crisp summer evening in the mountains. “Fall off, get back on” is standard horsemanship. He’d indicated little riding experience before we started, but bravely climbed back on his horse.

Since our party got a late start, it was dark with about a mile to go. As we entered the home stretch, an 11-year-old girl began wailing. Her glasses flew off her face when her horse lurched up from a ditch. Her mother, two horses in front of me by then, informed us all, loudly, that her girl couldn’t see anything without her glasses and demanded the guides’ double back for recovery.

They balked. It was too dark, they said, and we needed to finish the ride. That didn’t sit well in that mom’s saddle. She took matters into her own hands and turned her horse around. Her doing so made the rest of our horses act up again, and we all had to work to calm them. Angered, she was hailing the guides with as many choice words as she could think of, and as profaners go I must say she had turn-of-phrase talent. The 49er and I looked at each other and shrugged.

While that drama unfolded, the same black horse from the rear went rushing to the front, riderless again and chased by a trail guide. (I didn’t catch that horse’s name at the start or finish, but feel “Apocalypse” might be appropriate, per Revelation 6.) We heard loud moaning coming from the dust cloud behind us. It was that same poor man, thrown off that horse a second time. He landed on large rocks jutting up from the trail. My Holly toward the front of the line—teenagers’ phones seem to work everywhere—was given the charge by relay to call 911.

By the time our haggard group dragged into the stables, an ambulance was pulling up. The little girl who lost her glasses was still crying, her mom still cursing anyone in charge. The daughters of the injured man were crying too, understandably. Holly and I felt bad for them but still laughed under our breath when the gruff older guide mumbled to the youngest: “S--- happens; ain’t gonna be no tips either!”

I tipped. I think my NFL friend may have too. I tipped because I don’t think it was the guides’ fault what happened. The guides take a lot of abuse from spirited people like the mom who kept giving them what-for. They deal with a lot of people who are afraid of horses yet still want to ride them, and that has to be exhausting in itself.

There’s a reason it’s said if you fall off a horse seven times, get up eight. It’s how you compete with horses. You demonstrate perseverance—or grit, to use the Old West word. To adapt a William Barclay insight, perseverance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing but turn it into glory. There were glorious views on our ride even if the ride itself turned out to be something dangerous to come to.

“This is the purpose of life” is the chaser-clause on Life motto’s endorsement of things dangerous to come to. I don’t believe presenting oneself to danger is the purpose of life, but keeping oneself safe at all costs isn’t either. It seems to me there are risks incurred if we are to glorify God and even enjoy Him, which is how the Westminster Confession articulates the purpose of life for those in Christ. Every time we sing Amazing Grace we affirm there are still dangers, toils, and snares to come to on the trail through life. But there’s also Grace to lead us—like a trail horse—home.

Perhaps I will go hang-gliding next vacation.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:36 PM
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