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One summer afternoon when I was seven years old, I had a most interesting experience on our farm in Iowa. Dad hitched a team of horses to a large wagon, and he and I climbed into it. Dad drove the horses to a closed gate which we needed to pass through.

"Hey, Curly," he said (he always called me Curly) "could you hold the reins of the horses while I jump out and open the gate?"

"Sure, Dad," I replied.

While he was swinging the gate open, my curiosity went to work. I wondered whether the reins were long enough to reach the rear of the wagon’s box. I moved backward with them and discovered that they were about one foot too short. Maybe if I pulled them a little harder, I reasoned, they would reach the back. As I pulled, the bits in the horse's mouths jerked. Both horses, though generally calm, were greatly startled by the jerking reins and immediately bolted through the opened gate while Dad watched helplessly.

Each horse fed off the shock and fear of the other as their speed escalated. They made a turn to the right and sped into an open pasture with the wagon and me rattling and bouncing behind. My cap blew off and Dad said later that the could see my blond hair blowing in the wind above the side of the wagon box. Immediately Dad, shocked and frightened, began running through a cloud of dust toward the pasture. The team of horses turned right again and dashed through another gate into a plowed field. Loose dirt and dust flew high into the air. Next the horses circled to the left with the wagon and its precious cargo following behind — but on two wheels! The other wheels were spinning approximately one foot in the air!

After making a semicircle, the horses and wagon were speeding directly toward the fence which separated the field and the pasture. Fortunately the fence wasn’t too sturdy. The team and wagon burst through it as though it weren’t there. By this time Dad was running across the pasture on a collision path with the horses. Miraculously, the horses
slowed to a trot and Dad was able to grab their bridles and jerk their heads downward forcing them to stop.

Frozen with fear, Dad wondered how I was. "Are you alright?" he shouted. "Yep, I’m okay," I replied. "It was kinda fun, but I lost my cap."

Dad breathed a sign of relief and a prayer of thanks to God. His legs were trembling with fright. "Don’t worry about your cap," he said. "I’ll get you a brand new one!"

Knowing it was mostly his fault, Dad didn’t scold me for my little experiment of stretching the reins to the back of the wagon. He realized, too late, that it had been careless to leave his 7-year-old son alone in the wagon while it was hitched to a team of fresh horses. The thought crossed his mind that farming is not the safest occupation for either adults or kids.

When Dad and I made our way back to the house we described our harrowing adventure. Mom was obviously upset and Dad got a stern lecture on child safety. As for me, I believed Dad had done an impressive job of stopping the horses, and that the whole experience was quite exciting.
 

Robert Seltz

Robert Seltz has served as a Lutheran pastor for 53 years. 

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