Something squished beneath his loafer and released an earthy odor. Nothing in seminary had prepared him for this. In fact, nothing in his twenty-four years had prepared him for much of what he had encountered since moving to rural Northern Michigan.
He walked to the barn door, watching where he placed each foot. He mentally added another note to his growing list of dos and don’ts. When visiting a farm, do wear boots.
He wiped his hands on his slacks, though he’d touched nothing to dirty them. He looked into the dark opening of the barn. Should he walk in or knock? Barn etiquette was not a subject taught at seminary, and he was a city boy born and bred. The closest he ever came to a barn was the crude stable they used as a nativity at the church when he was a child. Those plastic animals never littered the ground.
“Hello?” he called into the barn.
“We’re back here. Come on in.”
Dust motes danced in the sunlight from high windows. He picked out the silhouettes of two people and the object of his visit beneath the aged beams at the back of the barn. The large black animal tossed its head and swung its hind end around as he approached. He took a hasty step back. The horse was huge.
The young boy, barely into his teens, hung onto the horse’s halter and talked softly to the beast. The mother came to meet him.
“It’s bad, Pastor. He has colic. If he doesn’t improve soon, we’ll have to put him down in the morning. The vet has done all he can.” Etched lines fanned from her eyes. “As much as I’m concerned for the horse, I’m more worried about my son. Losing that horse will crush him.”
The animal tossed its head, the whites of its eyes showing, and rapped a front hoof on the cement floor. They boy stood like a half-grown willow beside the distressed animal.
The pastor swallowed and laid a hand on the mother’s shoulder. “Let’s pray.”
She took his hand and led him closer, pressing it against the sweating black hide. He gulped and leaned forward, keeping his feet as far away from the hooves as possible. The boy nodded, his eyes round and solemn, both hands steadying the horse.
The pastor had no idea how to pray for the horse and little recollection later of what he said. But the relief and faith in the boy’s eyes and the gratitude in the mother’s stayed with him long after he left the farm. He shared the situation with the small flock gathered for Wednesday evening prayer service. The boy and his mother were not in their normal seats. Those gathered prayed fervently and without hesitation for the black horse and the boy.
His first waking thought the next morning was of the boy. Had his horse survived the night? Had God honored the prayers of His flock concerning a horse? He remembered the trust in the boy’s eyes. The pastor had to know.
After slurping down some coffee, he found an old pair of boots and trotted out to his car. He turned in the long drive to the farm and praise rose in his throat at the sight of the black horse with its nose in a bucket―and the smiling boy.
photo is the black horse and the author’s son taken in 2001