I don’t think I ever rode a horse bareback until I was nineteen—at least I don’t remember ever doing it before then. I was working at a wilderness Bible Camp in the Rocky Mountains of Southern Alberta when I first attempted, mainly due to peer pressure. Everybody else was doing it. So I guess I had to. Yeah, I know, I probably would have jumped off a cliff if everyone else were doing it too. Umm wait, I did jump off a cliff just because everyone else was doing it. The things you do to be cool.
A big part of learning to ride bareback is to get on the back of the horse. One method is to just drape your whole upper body over the back of the horse and then swing your right leg over and sit up. Another more foolproof way is to find something to stand on that makes it easier to just throw your leg over and go—such as a fence, a tree stump or a rock. The only problem then is being dependent on having a mounting “block” handy. Of course, the absolute easiest way is to have someone just boost you up, if you can only figure out how to have that somebody at your beck and call . . .
However, the way EVERYONE else at this camp was doing it, was the flashy Indian Mount, where in one fluid motion you grabbed the mane of the horse with your left hand and smoothly, gracefully swung yourself up and over the back of the horse with a giant kick of your right leg. Yes! This was the way to mount a horse with no saddle. It was pure poetry in motion! This was the precedent that was set for me—greenhorn wrangler of the group.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very good at it. I wasn’t very good at a lot of things that first summer of learning to be a horse wrangler. However, I was determined to learn. Partially because I didn’t want to be the only one of the group who didn’t know how and partially because I really thought I would look and feel cool if I could do it.
I decided to learn on the tallest horse in the herd because he was the horse I was assigned to ride the most anyways, and because I was most comfortable with him. I knew I could control him. I also instinctively knew that if I could learn to Indian Mount on the tallest horse, then I would never have a problem with any other horse.
Gilligan’s back was level with my head, so there was quite the kick I had to do to even get my leg over his rump. Usually I would just snag my heel on the top of his hip and then cling to his mane with one hand and dig my other elbow into the other side of his withers and inch my way slowly but surely until I could sit upright. It was a painful process for both horse and me, and not very elegant by any stretch of the imagination.
The only other problem with riding Gilligan bareback, was that he wasn’t the smoothest horse of the bunch and he had this loose type of skin that seemed strangely detached from his muscles. Pretty much every time I managed to get on him, I promptly fell off as soon as we broke into a trot.
Well that was all fine and dandy! Just gave me lots of practice mounting! Pretty much, it sucked riding Gilligan bareback. I looked like a floppy sack of beans jostling this way and that way as I struggled to maintain my balance on his slippery barrel of a back. Then off I would come, yet again.
The head wrangler Rachael asked me after one such episode why I continued to ride Gilligan bareback when I could choose a much easier horse to ride. I asked her in return, what if, by chance, there was an emergency where it depended on me to jump on a horse to ride to the rescue and the only horse that was left was Gilligan? I sounded smart, but really, I was just scared of the other horses because I didn’t know them as well as Gilligan and I was comfortable with him. She left me alone to continue on my merry way—or not so merry way.
Well it just so happened that we had let bunch of horses out to free-graze in the meadow around camp, when a bunch of them bolted. They took off towards the road and there was no fence to stop them. All the staff and campers were playing a game of mission impossible or something of the sort, in the meadow and woods around the camp and immediately all the staff took off in pursuit, grabbing the nearest horse at hand. The nearest horse to me, was Kayco. Without a thought I grabbed his mane and made the biggest swing of my life, knowing I would only have one chance at this, as Kayco was already moving to follow his mates.
Score! I landed on his back in the most professional Indian Mount you’ve ever seen and off we went—at a full out gallop! It was a moment made for the movies! And no one else saw it. Only me. Story of my life. I didn’t even have a halter or lead rope to steer Kayco with, so I just hung on. Freeriding! I don’t know what I was thinking going in pursuit of a herd of running horses on a naked horse. But I just had to be part of the action! I had never rode bareback faster than a trot before, and even then had never managed to stay on. So this was wild! Terrifying! Thrilling! We were galloping after the herd and I was sticking like a burr! I was Queen of the Range! Yeehaw!
When we caught up with the herd, the other wranglers had already headed them off and turned them back for camp. Kayco slowed to a lope amongst the other horses and I rode him easily! I even stuck when he jumped over a fallen tree!
When we arrived back at the corrals, I was so proud of myself! That one ride on Kayco proved to be a turning point for me in bareback riding. I even returned to riding Gilligan with much more confidence and managed to conquer bareback riding on him as well! All this was a confidence builder that taught me an important lesson: Persistence in doing the difficult, will result in success.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly;” ~ Thomas Paine
I learned to bareback ride on the tallest and roughest horse, and that has always been a bonus in my back pocket, because, sure enough, a few years down the road, I needed that ability to mount and “stick” any horse bareback. In fact it’s a skill that probably saved my life a few times over. This has shown me that learning a task the hard way is, in the long run, the best way.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” James 1:2-4 (MSG)
Now if only I can remember these lessons the next time I run into something else too big and too difficult to handle! My trouble is remembering the lessons I’ve learned and the principles I know, when I face new tasks or situations that are far above my abilities. But maybe it’s not at all about persistence and success.
I was reading a book on persistent prayer one day and came across a prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt prayed every night,
“Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life. Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”
This prayer struck me to my core and has made me ponder for quite a while. In fact I’m still pondering on this, hence why I’m writing about it.
What if it’s not all about persisting to become stronger and therefore more independent? What if it’s not about growing up to become less needy?
Maybe the idea of maturity for a follower of Christ is not spiritual independence and ability to stand in confident faith, but rather becoming more and more desperate for Christ to see us through—a maturity that comes from dependence not independence as one would assume.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
It’s a thought that is opposite our culture, and in fact, of our very nature.
It’s a radical thought that takes time to process all it’s implications. I know I can scarcely wrap my mind around it, because didn’t the verse from James just say persistence would breed maturity and completion? Is not dependence a form of being immature?
I know “Christ dependence” has been preached to me many times. I know I’ve read John 15:5 many times too. Here I thought I was “remaining” in Christ and being dependent on Him. But I don’t know if it quite reached my heart, because each time I accomplish something, persist in daily devotions, conquer a fear habit, overcome a sinful practice, or just “grow” in my walk with Christ, I somehow keep expecting to “arrive”—to actually “feel” like I’m succeeding in this whole faith walk thing I’m on. That one day I’ll be strong enough, wise enough, full of faith, and yes, of course, still realizing Christ is my strength, but maybe subconsciously thinking that I won’t need Him quite so desperately as I do now. Isn’t that what we expect of our own children as they grow—to stop being so needy?
Is that what God expects of us? To stop being so needy?
Then I came to this thought, after reading Eleanor’s prayer, that maybe, possibly that’s not what it’s supposed to be like. Perhaps I should never actually “feel” like I’m getting the hang of it. Maybe, I will be still on my knees in desperation forty years from now, as I am now—as I was fifteen years ago—begging for mercy and grace and help from my Lord. Always in that state of utter clinging and crucial dependency that grows even larger and fuller, the longer I am in Christ. And the desire to keep on being there—always at tasks too hard for me, always with my back to the wall, so to speak, so that I MUST remain dependent on Christ’s strength.
Who could possibly desire to be this way? What kind of person would actually pray for this—every night? I know I don’t like the thought of it.
Then a picture came to my mind of some of the bareback rides I went on where I was at the complete mercy of the horse. Freeriding—no saddle, no bridle or even a halter. We would thunder down the path with me clinging desperately to his back, fearing the whole time that one misstep would land us in a heap of trouble and knowing that there was no way that I could possibly stop or turn the beast, and understanding that the only way to have control was to bail off, and yet at the same time exulting in the complete freedom and power and harmony of our bodies flying along together. . . Yes, there was something about being swept along for the ride—about being so completely dependent and in-sync with the horse carrying me—that created the most terrifying and magical rides imaginable.
“apart from me you can do nothing.”
“More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God, turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,” ignore what the world worships; The world’s a huge stockpile of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one comes close to you!” Psalm 40:3-4 (MSG)