I f felt like something out of the prairie. There we were, in a long line of horses. Rabbi Eckstein, in a cowboy hat and vest, was in the lead. David rode somewhere in the middle, bright red first-aid bag strapped to his back, and Yoram brought up the rear. I was number four in the line; Ilana rode in front of me. Dahlia and the others brought our total to ten.

Our instructions were fairly simple: Stay in line. We talked some among ourselves, but mostly we just took in the refreshing air, the peacefulness of the countryside, and the thrill of being propelled forward by the powerful beasts beneath us.

When you’re out on a trail ride, horses pretty much play follow the leader; whatever the horse in front of you does, your horse does. Sometimes they defend their personal space with a threat, sometimes they squabble, but mostly they’re complacent and plod along willingly. Staying in line, then, was not an overly complicated instruction even on the somewhat narrow trail we traveled.

Ilana, though, seemed to be having trouble. Her horse, Topaz, kept stepping out of line and moving toward the front. Ilana tugged the reins to the left, but her efforts met with only partial success.

“Get back in line, please,” Rabbi Eckstein said.

Ilana tugged harder, and Topaz went back into the line.

A few minutes later, Ilana and Topaz were once again off to the right.

“Ilana,” the rabbi said, “you need to stay in line. Just pull the reins to the side.”

“I am pulling the reins,” Ilana said. “See?” She demonstrated, pulling them hard to the left, and Topaz got back in line. “Well, I did that a minute ago, and she just didn’t listen.”

Rabbi Eckstein nodded.

We hadn’t gone 50 feet when Ilana was off to the right yet again, approaching the front at a fast pace.

Rabbi Eckstein looked at her. “You need to stay in line. This path is not wide enough here for the horses to walk side by side.”

Ilana flapped her hand at the horse. “I’m trying to stay in line. This horse wants to be on the side, not in line!”

The rabbi shook his head. “Ilana, it’s not the horse that wants to be on the side, it’s you.”

“It’s not me,” Ilana shot back immediately. “You see I’m trying. It’s this stupid horse!”

As she said that, Topaz calmly reentered the line, this time in the number two slot, directly behind the rabbi.

I thought Ilana had the horse under control, until yet again, Topaz pulled off to the side and tried to overtake the lead horse.

The rabbi motioned her back.

“I don’t know what’s with this horse!” Ilana said. “She just doesn’t listen. For some reason she wants to be up front.”

Rabbi Eckstein turned around and smiled at her. “And I’m telling you it’s not the horse, it’s you.”

“It’s not me!” Ilana said, exasperated. “I’m telling you, it’s the horse! She has a mind of her own, and she’s just not listening to me!”

He pulled his horse to a stop; all the other horses followed suit.

“The horse is doing what you tell it to do. You’re the one who wants to go the side, not the horse. Would you like me to show it to you?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 546)