When I first saw Baby, she reminded me of an enormous potato with four legs and a head. I was about 12 when I saddled the crotchety old racehorse for the first time, and I took a couple hops in my cowboy boots before reaching the saddle horn with two hands. Yanking myself upward, I slid my left foot into one stirrup and swung my leg across the saddle to wedge my right boot into the other.
When Baby felt my weight, she shuddered from withers to rump. I gripped inner knees and thighs hard against the saddle just in time for the old racer to dance sideways, attempting to crush my leg on a cedar fence—but Baby was 16-plus hands tall. My boot heel barely touched the top rail, and her stout ribs thudded against the fence. I rewarded her by thumping my heels into her plump sides.
Nostrils flaring, Baby lurched into the most jarring, jagged trot I’ve ever experienced on horseback. I clucked until she broke into a canter—but her forequarters seemed unhinged from her rear end. The saddle jounced like I rode a bucking barrel on low-speed.
I pulled steadily with two hands on one side of the reins like a sailor hauling on a halyard, and we slowly tacked away from the inviting aroma of fresh-baled hay stacked inside our barn.
I hoped that Baby’s long legs would synchronize. My stirrups flopped against her sides like penguin wings, and, try as I might to adapt my oscillating hips to her painful gait, I couldn’t adjust. Suddenly, her wracking gallop changed—to what must have been her signature “dead run” on a race track.
Horseflesh and child happily merged, and it took several intoxicating seconds before I came back to my senses: I had six; no, five acres left—before twanging into four taut strands of barbed wire at the end of the pasture. Baby flung green, loamy clods behind her, and her ample sides billowed as I steadily yanked back on both reins.
The irrigation ditch’ll slow ‘er down….
It didn’t. With a fresh surge of power, Baby splashed through the trench, straining to reach her finish line. Eyes riveted on the barbed-wire fence, I grabbed one side of the reins as near the bridle as possible, and heaved with all my might….
Two horse lengths away from prickly steel, I breathed again, welcoming Baby’s erratic, intermediate gait. She arced away in a whacky canter and I guided her up a steep hill, feeling, for a few heady seconds, that I actually controlled my mount.
But from the corner of her eye, the old thoroughbred caught sight of the hay barn.
Suddenly Baby punished me with gassy backfires and bone-jarring bucks that nearly cast me under her hooves. The saddle horn jammed my solar plexus a time or two, and my cowboy boots came loose from the stirrups. I kept astride the broad-backed mare by clutching her mane, and I felt Baby up-shift to racing speed again, smoothing out like high gear in my dad’s Cougar.
Unbridled expressions of rage (and begging) had no braking effect on the barn-sour thoroughbred in the least. Milk cows grazing in her lane scattered as we streaked by, and I managed to snatch up one flapping rein. I hauled mercilessly on Baby’s boot-leather jaws, but she ground up our last acre like her morning oats. I pasted myself against Baby’s neck an instant before the header of the barn whizzed above my cowboy hat. Baby dug her hocks deep in the packed sawdust like stomping brakes on a runaway tractor, and I stayed aboard by shifting left and twisting right, harmonizing with her keyhole pivot.
Between great satisfied huffs, Baby stretched her long, contrary neck across the fence and yanked out a tuft of baled hay while I sat befuddled—the jockey who ended his race at the starting gate. “Barn-sour” Baby had run these maneuvers many times more often than racing on a track, and previous owners had always banished her to some forgotten pasture. After 20 years of being sold and resold, Baby had fattened contentedly to the maximum span of a saddle’s girth strap.
Thankfully I survived Baby’s barn-sour antics before anyone else in my family climbed into her saddle. We had purchased Baby (sight unseen) from a relative who sold her as “a retired racer, too lazy to run—the perfect family horse.” We sold Barn-sour Baby to a horse-broker, and after our story, hopefully she retired to a permanent pasture somewhere—permanently.
Hauling on the reins of a runaway racehorse gives one insight into what God means when he calls some of his sons and daughters “stiff-necked.” The word means stubborn, unbending—refusing to yield. When we feel God reining us in, warning us to “Turn!” our egos tend to rebel.
Sometimes we get a whiff of fresh-cut hay waiting in the barn, and we lurch that direction—to bloat up on short-term “satisfaction” (urp). Other times we gallop our own direction—unaware that strands of barbed wire cross the path ahead.
The key to fulfillment in this life is to simply respond to God’s touch upon our reins (our hearts) and turn HIS WAY.
Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. KJV
I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins [our motives and emotions], even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. KJV
I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me [Jesus] will be cared for [and] will freely go in and out, and find pasture. Message Bible