I love horses. I love mountains. Just not at the same time.

Last week, Rick and I spent a few days in the cool New Mexico mountains. We hiked. We bird watched. We saw more than 50 elk, up close. And we did something I’ve wanted to do for a while—we rode horses.

It was one of those rent-a-horse-for-an-hour tours where the guides take about a dozen people on a scenic trail. We paid our fees, and the lady asked if we were experienced horseback riders. Rick is. I am not. They promptly assigned Rick to a horse named Boo.

My horse’s name was Mad Max.

The name made me a little nervous, but Mad Max turned out to be a gentle old sweetheart, and we bonded. In my imagination, I started designing stables on our property back home, with Max’s comfort in mind.

Up the mountain we went, over rocky terrain, while the guides rode up and down the line making small talk and checking that everyone was okay. The horse three riders in front of me kept veering off course to munch on grass or leaves or whatever was available. I’m pretty sure that horse was a teenage boy.

Other than the starving stallion, the ride up the mountain went smoothly. The scenery was gorgeous, the climate refreshing. When it was time to descend, one of the guides told us to lean back in our saddles and lift our legs in front of us. That seemed odd to me.

It all went downhill from there.

The man in front of me was a big ‘ol boy, and I’m pretty sure his weight stretched the stated limit for the horses. His mare did not want to go downhill. She stopped. Took a timid step. Stopped again. Took another teensy step. At this rate, the hour tour would turn into a mountain version of Gilligan’s Island.

Mad Max had little patience for the moody mare and kept trying to pass her, only there wasn’t room on the narrow path for a passing lane, and I was pretty sure at several points we’d both tumble off the side of the mountain.

After a time, the timid steed in front of us found her footing, and down, down, down the mountain we went. That’s when I felt the strain and ache on my back, with each cloppety-clop of Max’s hooves. I figured out the leaning back instructions were as much to protect our bodies from the strain as to make it easier on the horses. After about five minutes, I was ready for the tour to end. After ten minutes, I was ready to climb off Max and just let somebody roll me down the rest of the way. Rolling had to be better than the constant knife-pains slicing through me with every step. Who knew downhill was harder than uphill? 

Mad Max kept plodding downward, and within an hour of our starting time, he had me safe and sound, back at the stables. In pain, yes, but alive.

What I really wanted, when I signed up for that trail ride, was nice, steady terrain. Flat land, where the going was easy and the path was straight.

Come to think of it, that’s what I want in every area of my life. No mountains to climb, no rocky hills to descend. I want nice and comfortable and easy. But think of the scenery I’d miss if I never climbed the mountain? Think of the stories I’d never tell, if I didn’t descend the stony stairway?

God promises that if we acknowledge Him in all things, He will make our paths straight, just as Mad Max did when he delivered me to the bottom of the mountain, to level land. But we’ve all got some steep mountains to climb and some difficult slopes to descend. That’s when God carries us. And though we may feel the residual pain of the journey, we can know we’re safe in God’s care.

Renae Brumbaugh Green is a bestselling author and award-winning humor columnist. She lives in Stephenville with her handsome, country-boy husband, nearly-perfect children, and far too many animals.