Revisiting the Gray
By Betsy Kelleher
Last summer, my husband and I vacationed at Lake Barkley in Kentucky and went horseback riding at their stable. It was my first time riding their horses, and the 45-minute ride was almost over before I relaxed enough to really enjoy the gorgeous wooded trail. I didn’t need to worry; my big paint horse was perfect.
I wanted to ride again the next day, but it rained early. We went to the stable after the rain but only the horses were there, so I took some photos. A gray horse came over to the gate and stood there beside me for a long time. When I walked away, going around the fence to get a better shot of the paint, the gray followed me.
Since the gray horse seemed so friendly, I thought about him after we left. I even wondered about buying him, but I wanted to ride him first. We recently went again to Lake Barkley, and I had my chance. The wrangler told me he was a sweet horse and his name was Shadow. As I mounted him, I asked her if I should know anything about him. She said he liked to eat along the trail and most riders let him. I assured her I wouldn’t.
One thing I had noticed about this gray quarter horse was the shape of his head, and I didn’t like that part of him. There was a slight bulge below his eye, which some might call a “Roman” nose. In books that describe how a horse’s head indicates personality, I’ve read that a straight line from forehead to nose usually means a willing temperament. The bulge below the eye often indicates a stubborn nature or willfulness. I was curious how this gray horse would behave when I rode him.
There were seven in our riding group, including the young gal who led our ride. I was next to last, with my husband behind me on another gray quarter horse who looked like a flee-bitten Arab—white with small dark spots. The young girl ahead of me was on a slow, lazy chestnut. I overheard the wrangler telling her she would need to kick him to keep him going. I didn’t notice her doing much kicking, and my horse was constantly walking into him.
At first, I was pleased that Shadow neck reined easily when I asked him to move over on the trail. It was rocky and steep in a few places, and the woods were beautiful, reminding me of GreensfelderPark. I soon found that Shadow did indeed want to put his head down to eat. At first, I just held the reins steady and he would root at the bit a moment then tuck his head very nicely and go on. After the first half hour, he was fighting his Tom Thumb bit more and more. At one point, as he kept to the right of the trail near some leafy trees, he grabbed for the leaves and I stopped him just in time.
Soon after that, I suddenly realized my husband was not behind me. I hollered out, and he answered that his horse had to stop and relieve himself. After a moment, his horse came into view around the trees, trotting to catch up. Not good, I thought—Russ was used to riding a gaited horse. Meanwhile, Shadow seemed annoyed that I had stopped him, letting the other horses get ahead of us. They waited for us, and in spite of Shadow’s fighting the bit even more than before, we caught up and went on without more delays.
When Shadow had seemed so extra friendly a year ago, I felt a certain connection with him. After riding him, I knew my initial judgment about the shape of his head did have merit. I didn’t let him eat like other riders had, and he didn’t like it. The minute I got my feet out of the stirrups, he was off for a big drink of water. The woman in charge quickly pulled his bridle off and hooked it over the saddle horn as he walked away. Was I surprised that he didn’t show any further interest in me?
Any horse will do what he is allowed to do. Shadow had been spoiled by riders who allowed him to eat on the trail. I didn’t, so my ride was a constant struggle with his mouth. I was glad that the struggle didn’t go any further than that. I am well aware that a big strong horse who is stopped from doing what he has gotten used to doing can sometimes express his displeasure in dangerous ways!
The next day, my husband said his lower back ached some, but he felt more limber. And he has ridden only twice in the past year and a half, both times at Lake Barkley.
I appreciated my Lady and Rocky even more after riding Shadow. I haven’t let either one of them eat on the trail unless I stop and give permission. I don’t usually have any problem with that issue. Once you let a horse do what he wants to, whether it’s eating on the trail or something else, such habits are difficult to break. Better to not let it get started.
For some reason, I found myself thinking about certain bad habits in my own life. Sometimes I catch myself doing what I want to do instead of things I should be doing. Yeah, like checking emails and Facebook instead of studying Scripture or doing housework. No wonder my house gets dusty. I remember my grandfather saying something about doing work before pleasure. Sigh.
When we stopped at Lake Barkley, we were on the way home from a Florida vacation with my family. I had spent some time with three lovely granddaughters, all of whom inspire me with their thoughtful ways. I am very proud of them. They show a desire to do the right thing, to follow God’s will, a trait often lacking in today’s young people.
I pray each morning to be more aware of God’s guidance and to be more obedient to His will. Is it just words? I realize that He gives me freedom to make my own decisions—to learn from my mistakes and to grow from my experiences. Following Him is my daily choice, not because He demands it or forces it. I know I don’t always do what I should. Whenever I honestly desire to be obedient, however, He gives the means to help me do it. His love provides for my needs. His protection keeps me safe. His grace makes allowance for my errors. Jesus himself prayed “not my will but Thine” before going to the cross, according to Luke 22:42. He understood my human predicament and His sacrificial love took care of it.
Deciding to follow His will may always be a daily struggle within me, because of my own sometimes willful personality. Like Shadow, I have some bad habits to overcome.
(Originally published in the August 2012 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)