I’m getting too old for this. Or that’s what I thought when I slowly rolled myself into the half ton as we went to gather cattle.
It all started fairly innocent. My brother and I were assembling horses for all of the kids to ride, his son and daughter and my two boys. All told there were 12 creatures attempting to work together. If it was a military operation you’d liken it less to D-Day than to Custer’s Last Stand.
We finally got all of the kids mounted, re-assured in their anxieties and somewhat fitted into their saddles. Then my brother saddled his new horse, and only I was left.
Since my niece was riding my horse, the old campaigner Baldy, I was left to choose from the two horses left in the pen. I could take my brother’s old horse Speedlord. He was a now nearly ancient thoroughbred with more grey hair than me. I’d ridden Speedlord a few times over the years, and I remember when we missed a tight right angle to enter a gate and he fell over with myself being flung forward into the newly seeded field. Never was I so thankful for newly tilled dirt.
The other choice was none other than the fabled Strawberry Roan. My brother had recently bought him from a calf roper at an auction. In the show ring a young woman had ridden the Roan and it looked so broke that it was ‘bomb-proof’. That’s the label applied to a horse that is so tamed and trained that a bomb could go off and the horse wouldn’t be phased at all. I was naturally suspicious of the ‘bomb-proof’ claim, but I decided to go with the Roan.
The Roan stood very quietly as I saddled him and fitted the bit to his mouth. I was very attentive to his responses at each point. Would he balk at the tightening of the cinch? Would he rear back at the offer of the bit? He did none of these, standing shiverless just like his reputation claimed.
I still wanted to be careful. As I placed my weight onto the left stirrup I was ready to be flipped backwards if the horse reared, or to be off-balance if the horse lunged forward. But he didn’t move. He didn’t even shift his weight. He seemed to have been ready to accept me as a rider without any discomfort.
I swung my right leg over the saddle and let myself down onto his back. With my full weight on him I thought this would be the beginning of the rodeo if it was ever going to happen.
So for a second I waited. Nothing happened. No shivers. No nervous steps forward. At that point it was clear that either this Roan was as advertised, was completely bomb-proof, and was safe for children, or he was the most cunning critter I’d seen in a long time.
I leaned slightly to tilt the fender of my right stirrup so that I could secure my right foot. I had the relaxation of mind that comes from passing through an anxious experience without mishap. My thoughts turned to the safety of my boys and their cousins. Did I have a warm enough jacket on? I was looking forward to riding a new horse with my family on a blue sky day.
There was no way to anticipate it. It was one of the dirtiest moves I have seen. When I went to put my foot in the right stirrup, the Roan went completely vertical. His front end went straight up so high and fast that I thought he was coming over backwards in that vicious man-killing way.
I was trying to stay with him but the saddle horn had slammed hard into my sternum. He went backwards onto his haunches and I was pushed out the back of him. I couldn’t tell what happened then. He bucked on top of me and I felt a series of hammer blows come down all over me as my face was smashed down into the dirt.
He kept bucking and I crawled to the fence where my sister-in-law looked on in stunned horror. I grabbed onto the drill-stem fence and lifted myself up, turning to see that the Roan was still jump-kicking like the tenth round of the National Finals Rodeo. After he piled me he bucked to the west end of the pen, crashing into my brother’s horse then continued bucking toward the four mounted youngsters passing through them and making all of their horses offer a crow-hop or two. Only Scooter the little bomb-proof stud ignored the blustery Roan.
The bark was knocked off my nose and blood was coming out of it. I was hurt all over and I didn’t even know how bad until later on. My chest hurt, but I didn’t think my sternum was broke. Two neighbours within a few miles had broken their sternums in the last month, one from the slip of a heavy combine wrench, the other in a horrible highway crash. My chest was sore but I didn’t think I broke anything. My right knee hurt. And I had a vague soreness on my left thigh and left elbow.
I didn’t get back on. I didn’t ride. I was feeling sore and old. I chased cows in the pickup. There was still the enjoyment of watching my sons and their cousins and uncle round up the cattle. But my mind was mostly preoccupied with my aching pain and also something else.
I thought a lot about mercy as I motored behind the cows. God was full of mercy to me that afternoon. I could have broken my sternum. Or I could have been paralyzed at the neck. Or I could have been killed while my sons watched. The fact that I was puttering around in the truck was evidence of God’s great mercy to me. As the old prophet Jeremiah said, “his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3.22-23).
I knew more clearly than the pain in my chest that God had not given me what I deserved, but instead had continued to give me good things that I didn’t deserve. Even for a pastor who preaches about the grace and mercy of God every Sunday I still had things to learn. And on that afternoon, I was expertly schooled by a powerful sermon ‘preached’ to me by God through that Strawberry Roan.