If it had four legs (more or less), be it fiberglass or human, I rode it. The back of my middle-aged Grandpa, my older brother, or the shoulders of my favorite uncles were fair game. (My Grandpa submitting to a living room rodeo are still fond memories.)
When I wasn’t pouncing on one of my human-horses, I straddled my fiberglass hobbyhorse and rode into adventures only I could dream up. Puffs of air blew back my bangs as I pulled on the handles below its tan ears and threw myself backward, and then forward. The metal springs creaked and groaned as they strained to their max—sounding to me like hoof beats galloping down the trail.
My next thrill was the privilege of riding a steed whose legs actually moved. I was ecstatic! I sat proudly on its black and white painted back, grabbed the reins, and took off into brand new adventures. Staring across the mountains, I wondered what was on the other side. I imagined my horse and I flying over the ridges, exploring new territory. At four-years-old, my heart soared with the endless possibilities.
In the midst of my exciting escapades, however, there was an emptiness—a void only a real horse could fill.
On a quiet afternoon, I played with my plastic horses, trying to teach my Barbies how to ride. The devout ladies in my mom’s prayer group sat in a pious circle in the living room. Tranquil murmurings filled our home as the women prayed through their list.
Somewhere around the last name, the faint rattle of my dad’s pickup and trash trailer rumbled up the driveway. Intent on successfully bending the Barbie’s legs to fit around the barrel of her Breyer, I barely gave it notice.
And then, we all heard it. The reverent “Amen” had scarcely been uttered when a rather peculiar noise blasted through the air from inside that trailer.
The appalled look on Mom’s face was along the lines of, “Oh no, what did he bring home now?” (to add to our two goats, a couple of dogs, hamsters, and a colorful assortment of 20 or so cats).
“What was that?” Squeaked the lead church lady as the rest of the women stared out the window in wide-eyed silence.
Apparently my dad found an awesome deal on a donkey. I’m sure you could hear his Hee-Haws in the next county! Donkey Ode (Don Quixote) wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but he had four legs and a tail and I was happy. He, however, was a utility-type donkey, bought to tromp down weeds and clear land. My brother and I did attempt to ride him while Dad led him along the wash road. But he wasn’t too thrilled about that and promptly bucked us off in the brush. He remained a “utility” donkey, and I resumed my pony-dreams.
Not too long after, I was “helping” my mom with dinner when we heard my dad roll up with the trash trailer again. I raced to the dining room window just in time to see him open the door of the trailer. There was something moving back there!
How fast can a five-year-old run? Fast! I bolted across the room, out the door, over the front lawn, leaped the wall and nearly collided with my new present. The first lesson I learned was never run like a crazy thing up to a horse. It could spook them and all.
The story? On the way home from the dump, my dad discovered a pony for sale by the side of the road. Unable to resist the desire of his daughter’s heart, nor the sob story of the pony’s owner, the Shetland was purchased and loaded into the empty trailer.
The next day, growing suspicions of Sandy, our new family addition, surfaced. This placid little pony from the street corner showed signs of a more spirited, mischievous steed in our backyard. In the name of safety, my parents solicited the help of one of our horse-neighbors and her arena.
As the horse people we knew weighed in with their doubts, the verdict became unanimous that our first lesson as new horse owners was: “beware—the horse trader.” Our little friend had obviously been provided with some “happy juice” to calm his personality, and the trader had laid in wait for someone to take the bait.
But even when others pull a fast one, God has a plan. That pony taught me how to ride. His lively shenanigans of twirling in circles and nipping at my legs taught me to balance. His sporadic bucks taught me to grip. And I learned to outwit him, anticipating his evilness, when he decided a frolic across the field would be great fun.
In fact, years later at age 18, my ability to stick to a horse like glue came in handy when I applied for a wrangler job at a local stable. The interview with the foreman included the challenge: “If you can ride that strawberry roan out of this stable yard without gettin’ tossed, you’ve got the job.” I got the job.
However, at 5-years-old, my limited expertise in the equine world warranted a search for another horse. A nice lady with five rambunctious boys bought Sandy and assured us he was going to a good home. But she also assured us that Sandy would continue his comeuppance with her fearless bunch.
Shortly, I was rewarded with a black and white pinto pony, King. We rescued him from a lonely existence in a friend’s pasture after her sons decided they liked motorcycles better. I moved on to learn more solid horsemanship skills on a more amiable horse.
Sandy, nevertheless, will always have a soft spot in my heart. Although a holy terror, he was beautiful, he was mine, and he was the start of a long legacy of my love and amazing adventures of all things horse.
At 55, I still have horses. They are a vital part of my husband and my ministry. I sit here grinning and grateful at the thought that sometimes a blessing may not come in the package we expect. Even when a “trader” targets us with less than stellar deeds, God, in His goodness, has a way of turning even that into a beautiful gift we can use.
And yes, I explored the other side of those mountains … and many others.
Shara's book: Walk Like a Warrior: Inspirational true stories of God's encouragement on the trail less-traveled: https://www.amazon.com/Walk-Like-Warrior-Inspirational-Encouragement/dp/1512774812/