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“Are you ready yet?” I was in the gym, trying to get my friends to come ride horses with me. I was already ready with my old cowboy boots on and my hair braided. It had been raining lately and the river had been flooding. No one wanted to go riding today. But I had managed to round up three of my friends, Kevin, Kari, and Sterling. We all stayed at a boarding school in southern Oregon. We were blessed to have a great mixture of different activities, including horses.
“I’ll meet you down there.” Sterling called over his shoulder as he ran to his room to change. Sterling is a close friend of mine who loves to ride the horses with us, but most of the time he’s busy studying. He’s my “twin”. We were born on the same day in the same year.
“Come on.” I dragged my other two friends, Kari and Kevin. Kevin would follow us just about everywhere we want to go but Kari was dragging me more than I was dragging her. She was my co-worker at the barns in the morning with the horses. Horses are beautiful in the morning.
We had already picked out our horses ahead of time. Sterling always liked to take Idaho, an old paint with a lot of spirit. If you let him run, he will never want to stop. Kevin had claimed Roy as his favourite. Roy is an ex racehorse and dressage horse. Sometimes he forgets he isn’t competing any more. His real favourite horse was Shotsy, who was a little crazy at times but so sweet when you weren’t riding him. Kari took Bonita. Bonita is a funny little horse. She twitches her lip constantly and dances. Her and Kari match each other very well.
I had chosen Gypsy. Gypsy doesn’t always get along with everyone. She is a beautiful light colored mare with a high spirit and a will of her own. I always enjoy working with these kinds of horses that give me a challenge. I hadn’t had a chance to ride her that much yet this year so we were still getting to know each other. She hadn’t accepted me yet fully. I was just another rider to her.
Sterling soon joined us and we saddled up and took off. There are a few trails around campus that we could take. Most of them were in the mountains but there was one trail we call the river trail. It followed the river that borders one side of campus. We chose that trail.
As we were riding we came across many large areas of water where the creeks had flooded the trail. The horses made it through just fine. We were all laughing and having fun. We got to where we could first see the river and stopped to watch for a little bit. It had turned brown and ran swiftly and strongly. There were whole trees being swept downriver.
When I ride I sometimes sing, especially when I’m riding a difficult horse, to calm them. The horses are a connection to God for me. Watching the river, I lost myself in nature and could feel God. It’s something I don’t know how to explain. It’s just amazing and relaxing.
We continued along the river, mostly in silence. There were a few places the horses had to struggle through as the water washed through. They were full of energy and excited. I kept Gypsy calm by being gentle and letting her find her own way through the blackberry bushes in her path and the water washing passed her feet.
“Do you think we should turn back?” Kari was asking us.
“I think this is the lowest spot in the trail.” I looked ahead. “I don’t think it’s too bad.”
Kevin nodded. “And horses can swim.”
I nodded but I started looking around. The water was rather swift. We were coming up to the tunnel of blackberries ahead. Kevin went first, trying to stay on and avoid the thorns at the same time. As we continued forward, the water got higher and higher and was now brushing my boots. We might be getting wet. I thought to myself. Then suddenly Gypsy was swimming and lunging forward. I became soaked. Beside me Sterling was swimming with Idaho. He was laughing. I had never been on a swimming horse before. It felt on the knife’s edge of slipping under and rising above the water. Now that there was nothing I could do about getting wet, and accepted the water.
We came out of the tunnel and discovered that we were in the river. It had flooded so much that it had completely covered the trail and past that. Gypsy was struggling to keep her nose above water. The roar of the water drowned out the sound of my friends’ voices. Kevin was far ahead of me struggling with his own horse. I lost sight of him as they were swept away.
“Gpysy!” Gypsy’s head had gone under. I was still on her yet floating. I slipped off and hung to the saddle. I could feel my boot trying to slide off as I kicked my feet. I tried to keep my legs away from where Gypsy’s hooves were churning the water. My hand caught my boot and I hung on. The river was pulling us faster downriver.
“Gypsy!” I screamed. Her head had gone under again. I tried to let go and help her keep her head up but then I went under. I had hold of the reins and I wouldn’t let go. When I came up Gypsy was just a little farther away.
“Gypsy!” Her head had gone under again. When she came up her nostrils flared as she gulped for air. I had hold of the saddle again but Gypsy was drowning slowly. We had ended up in calmer area of the river with a shield of blackberries. I looked around, trying to see anyone else. Kari was farther down caught on something. Then I lost sight of her again. I felt that every moment I was hanging on to Gypsy and weighing her down, I was weakening her faster. I knew I couldn’t get myself out to help Gypsy. I think I was crying. I don’t know. I was praying to God out loud.
“God help me. Help Gypsy. Gypsy!” Then I felt calm. I did not relax but I felt calm. Looking at Gypsy I let go and pushed away.
“Go Gypsy!” I hoped that she could get out at least. Because I couldn’t. Then I went under. I had a panic moment. I knew I was letting myself drown to help Gypsy. I know I couldn’t get out on my own. But I still struggled. God help me. I had given up but I was still asking God for help. If He wanted me to get out of this river, He was going to have to do something, because I couldn’t help myself. Then I felt the water swirl differently nearby. I felt hair brush my hand in the water. I grabbed it and held on tight. I felt myself being pulled through the water and this time, I wasn’t going with the current. It was something else.
My head came above the water and Gypsy was ahead of me. She had come back for me. And now, somehow, she had strength to pull against the river. I hung on for what seemed like a long time. Then I could see Kevin on part of the trail. He was holding his horse and calling to me anxiously. I suddenly felt Gypsy’s feet hit something. It didn’t hold but she hit something else. She was walking on blackberries and struggling to pull me up to where Kevin was standing. She pulled me up until I was all the way out of the water. I finally let go and fell to the ground. I felt so tired and I wanted to just collapse but Kari was still out there and I didn’t know where Sterling was. I struggled to my feet and noticed I was still holding my boot. I through it up the trail and took off my other one and through it too.
Kevin had taken Gypsy’s reins and was saying something to me but I wasn’t listening. Kari was just a few feet away still in the water. Bonita was still not quite touching. Kari was somehow still on her back. The reins were caught on a piece of a tree sticking up out of the water. Kari couldn’t reach them and Bonita looked confused.
I went back into the water towards her. The river pulled at me, trying to pull my downstream farther. Once the river passed that corner it was just crazy with no chance of grabbing anything, not even blackberries for a long ways. I lunged and grasped the wood, the river pulled at me. I knew there were thorns stabbing my feet through my socks, but I had to keep myself there for Kari. With one hand holding on I slowly eased the leather off the wood. As soon as Bonita was free she lunged towards Kevin. I tried to grab a strap from her saddle but I missed. The river seemed to be pulled harder at me now. I had to get to where it couldn’t pull me away.
There was a wall of blackberries directly behind me. I let go of the wood and grabbed anything I could to pull myself closer to shore. Kari and Bonita had disappeared up the trail. Kevin was still there, calling to me and holding the horses. I struggled against the water using blackberry bushes as my support.
“God help me.” I continued praying to God. Bit by bit, I pulled myself out of the strong current and towards shore again. Finally I was able to walk on the thorns without the water pulled me away. I grasped Gypsy’s saddle and hung on. We began walking up the trail.
“Where’s Sterling? Where’s Idaho?” I demanded of Kevin.
“It’s okay. Idaho is where he can stand and Sterling is going to get help.” I nodded and kept stumbling forward. We came around to where I could see Idaho. He was standing by himself against the blackberries shivering. He looked so alone I started to go to him but Kevin stopped me. “It’s okay. He’s fine. Don’t go out there anymore. People are coming.”
I nodded but I wanted to go to him. Kevin began taking the saddles off the horses so I helped him to keep my shaking fingers busy. Now I began to hear the siren of the fire station across the river and saw vehicles coming towards us. There were people everywhere and trying to ask me questions. One of the firemen gave me his coat and someone got me to get in one of the trucks. Sterling was there too. I began shivering and hyperventilating. They said I went in to some mild form of shock. Sterling put his arm around me and they drove us to the girls’ dorm.
A women who helps with the school a lot, helped us get out and got us inside. We got showers and she wrapped us in warm blankets and sat us in my assistant dean’s office. “Wait. What about the horses?” I started to try to get up. She wouldn’t let me.
“Other people are taking care of the horses. I’ll go check on them for you. You sleep and get warm.”
I nodded and did sleep. For weeks afterwards, I wouldn’t go near the river. Even if we rode the horses through a little puddle I’d have to steer mine around it because just the sound of the hooves in the water made me freeze up.
I will always remember that day. God saved my life using a horse.
“For I know I have plans for you... ....plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future “ (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). Apparently God did have plans for me if he saved me that day. He has a plan for everyone; we just don’t always know what it is. I know I still don’t know. It might have to do with my music. I have poured myself into that now for Him. He definitely deserves it.