A Mountain Of Fear


"Is that snow up there?” I asked excitedly, reining my horse to a stop.
“Well, it’s not powdered sugar!” my best friend, Roxy, said with a laugh. “Come on; I’ll race you there!”
We galloped up to the patch of snow. My horse, Palleo, snorted as she put her nose down to smell the snow. I urged her to get moving. She pranced around, lifting each hoof high with each step.
“It looks like she’s dancing!” laughed Roxy.
“She’s never seen snow before,” I explained.
In fact, this was the first time Palleo had ever been on a mountain. Several months earlier Roxy’s family had moved from our city of Glendora to live at a ranger station. My dad had trailered my horse up the previous day so I could spend a few weeks of the summer out in the country with my friend.
“Hey, Roxy,” I asked, “how did Babe act the first time you rode her in the snow?”
Roxy didn’t answer.
“Roxy?” I twisted in my saddle to look back at her. She had a strange, serious look on her face. “Roxy, what’s wrong?”
“The sun’s gone down,” she said in a quiet voice.
“So? We’ll head back. That’s OK.”
Roxy shook her head. “You don’t understand. The number one rule here is Never stay on the mountain after dark.”
“Well, let’s head back,” I said, turning Palleo around.
“We don’t have time to go back that way! It’ll take too long.” She was on the verge of tears.
“Roxy, come on; we’ll hurry—”
“Let me think for a minute,” she interrupted. Roxy stood up in her stirrups and looked around. “I know! Let’s take the firebreak! It’ll take us straight down to the ranger station! Come on!” She took off at a fast trot.
“What’s a firebreak?” I yelled.
“It’s where they’ve cleared away the brush so it’ll stop any fires coming through,” she answered.
After trotting along for a few minutes, Roxy pointed up ahead. “There it is.”
The firebreak was a swath of plowed-up chunks of dirt, big rocks, and broken sticks. Roxy turned her horse onto it, and Babe started picking her way through the debris.
At that moment I knew I was in trouble. Palleo, being a city horse, was fine to ride on streets around traffic. But otherwise she was a real klutz. On a field she’d trip in the only gopher hole around for miles.
Not knowing what to do, I turned Palleo to follow after Babe. She stumbled about every third step. I kept patting her on the neck and whispering to her that she was going to be all right.
Tough Going
As the sun fell rapidly, it became darker and darker. It got colder, too. I zipped my windbreaker up to my neck.
For the first half hour or so, the going wasn’t too bad, and I thought, I can do this.
Babe moved a lot faster than Palleo through the uneven terrain and was soon far ahead. At the rate Palleo was tripping, I hesitated to urge her to go faster. I kept my eyes on the ground, searching for holes or rocks that Palleo might trip on. I looked up just as Roxy and Babe disappeared over a small hill up ahead.
When I reached the top, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When Roxy said the firebreak would take us straight down to the ranger station, she wasn’t kidding. The firebreak was now almost straight down the mountain!
Roxy was already halfway down. I could see Babe in the twilight, sliding down on her haunches.
I didn’t have to rein Palleo to a stop. She wasn’t about to go down that steep hill.
“Roxy!” I shouted. “I can’t ride down there!”
“You have to!” she shouted back.
I looked back the way we’d come. The firebreak seemed to go up forever. The sun was well behind the mountain, and the light was almost gone. I didn’t have a choice. I had to go down.
Tears streamed down my face. If my mom could see me now, she’d be terrified. I was terrified. There was no way I could ride my horse down that firebreak. Then I remembered the Bible verse that Mom and I had been memorizing together just the week before: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
I started praying as I’d never prayed before. “Dear God, You’ve promised that with Your help, anything is possible. I need Your help now to get me off this mountain. Please help me! Amen.”
Wiping my tears on my jacket sleeve, I kicked Palleo, forcing her down the firebreak. After only a few feet she stumbled so badly that I was thrown up onto her neck. I grabbed her mane and held on. If I fell now, she’d trample me. There was no way she could stop.
Cautiously I slid back into the saddle. As soon as the firebreak flattened out a little, I stopped Palleo and jumped off. I’d walk alongside of Palleo the rest of the way down. If she fell, I didn’t want to be in front of her.
As we slipped and slid down the mountain I kept repeating the Bible verse over and over. At one point the ground was so steep that I had to sit down and slide on my rear end. Palleo, back legs tucked well up underneath her, had to do the same. If she lost her footing now, she’d tumble down the mountain and probably break a leg—or worse.
It seemed as though the firebreak would never end. The darkness made it almost impossible to see. Each step became more treacherous than the previous. Palleo fell to one knee just as the moon peeked out from behind a cloud, penetrating the darkness. She struggled back to her feet.
I hugged her neck, my tears starting once again. Then I looked down the mountain. We were almost to the bottom! I could see the lights of the ranger station. Roxy and her parents were running toward me with flashlights.
Roxy gave me a hug. “You made it! I knew you could do it!”
“Yeah, I did it,” I answered, out of breath.
But I knew that I hadn’t done it alone. As I led Palleo back to the barn, I prayed silently, Thank You, Lord, for getting me safely off the mountain.

Karen Troncale