Taking a trail ride on a horse provides a distinctive lens to view the mountains that cannot be captured on the walking paths or roadways.
My trips West over the course of my life have given me more than one experience with this and in each case, the views were breathtaking and the horse fortunately knew the way to go and what it needed to do.
On my last trip to Yellowstone I had the prospect of taking one more such ride. I was not deterred by my age or the reality it had been thirty years since I had tried such a venture. That’s how I tend to approach adventures that peak my interest after spending a childhood where I was often too timid to try much of anything.
The morning came and the guide had chosen Bertha to be the mount for me. I still have no idea how a specific horse is chosen for a specific person. Bertha was named such as a result of her size, B-I-G! Her head was enormous and I could never have gotten on the saddle without the wooden platform and steps placed beside her for me to use.
As always, we were given only a few basic instructions. Be sure to hold the reins and pull back on the reins when you want the horse to stop. Don’t let the horse eat along the way. Check.
After all, horses used for such trail rides are trained and know the drill. I had also been assured that Bertha was not a young skittish mare that would be tempted to bolt or buck.
With all those basics under my belt, Bertha and I set out following the guide at the head of a long line of other riders. Bertha was doing well except for her temptation to eat along the way.
Fifteen minutes into the ride, our trek ventured down a slope to a small stream littered with rocks. Rocks were on either bank of the stream as well. Bertha started down the slope and into the stream stepping as carefully as she seemed to know to do. Suddenly she tripped and immediately dropped on her front knees into the water!
Wait!! No one gave me instruction for this! I know we signed a release about various things that could happen, but no one expected any of those things would.
As Bertha fell to her knees quickly, the time for me seemed to be happening in slow motion. I recognized that she was leaning to her left side and appeared to be going completely down beyond her knees. My reaction prompted me to try to get my left foot out of the stirrup as quickly as I could so my leg would not be pinned beneath her. I managed it just in time and my left foot found a fairly secure spot on which to land.
Next was that other foot and lifting my leg across the saddle as I felt Bertha steadily going all the way down. That was going pretty well also, but as my right foot hit the rocks it slipped into the water and then I lost my balance and there I was with my knees banging against the rocks, my left hand down in the stream and my right hand hanging onto one of the rocks, my body sprawled in the mix.
Bertha seemed totally at ease! It dawned on me that it was almost as if she knew to go down just slowly enough after losing her footing to give me a chance to get off safely.
By now everyone was scrambling to find out if I was really okay or hurt in some way that might not be apparent. One guide was helping me up while another was helping Bertha.
I was given a choice to go back to the ranch or to continue for the two-hour ride. Since I was fairly certain I was largely unharmed save some bruises and a scrapped knee, I chose to continue on the ride.
Despite the fall, Bertha taught me I could trust her, that she knew her job was to carry me safely from the beginning of the trip to the end. I didn’t need to be the expert! She was! She knew the path!
Bertha also taught me something else.
In my life there is One who knows the path, is the Expert. He can carry me from the beginning to the end and I can trust that.