by Katelyn Sullins Posted Oct 16, 2019
Their alarm clocks often buzz at 4 am, there’s more dirt under their fingernails than you’d find in a sandbox, and their jeans may or may not be stuck on because of the 100-degree heat, but you’ll rarely find one without a big smile on their face. They’re the Pine Cove wranglers, and they really are as cool as they look.
Any former wrangler can attest to the unique culture that exists in a camp barn. In fact, wrangling at camp seems to be one of those jobs where “if you know, you know.” Savannah “Minty” Miller told us, “Being a wrangler at Pine Cove has by far been the most transformational part of my life. It is the most physically demanding job… but the reward is great.”
Many wranglers have little to no experience in the equestrian world before they arrive at camp, so they rely on our experts to teach them the ropes! It is hard work, but well worth the time and effort. Cal “Eye of the Rider” Naughton reflected on his summer days, saying, “Sometimes camp doesn’t feel like a job because it is so fun. Other times I question whether or not I will make it till lunch… However, every moment of camp brings me closer to God, whether I’m thanking Him for those moments or asking Him for the strength to take the next step.”
Often the first to rise and sometimes the last to go to sleep, wranglers pack their days full of hard work—and hard play! In between 4 am wake-up calls to groom the horses and shoveling you-know-what to keep the barns squeaky clean, wranglers have the unique opportunity to model the good news of the Gospel with tangible lessons.
For many younger campers, a trip to the barn serves as a living picture of how to face (really big!) fears. One of our wranglers said their favorite detail to point out on trail rides centered around the horse’s bit and bridle. Psalm 32:9 says, “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or mule, which have no understanding; they must be controlled with bit and bridle to make them come to you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but loving devotion surrounds him who trusts in the Lord.” Just as the horse felt more freedom the more he trusted his rider and did not fight against the bit, the more we submit to God’s direction, the more freedom we feel. All He asks is that we trust Him!
The wranglers were quick to remind us that opportunities for ministry don’t stop at the barn doors! A lot of non-wrangler time is spent pouring into an adopted cabin, investing in staff, or helping out with the camp program. Flexibility is the name of the game. One wrangler even jumped in the pool in her jeans because that’s what her adopted cabin was doing during free time that day! When asked what made her jump, Millie “Flops” Melinder said, “I went from being a Project 319 camper to now working my third summer here at camp. Having the opportunity to help enhance camper experience when camp was such a huge part of my walk with God… it seems unreal. I couldn’t not!”
While atop the Pine Cove Towers castle playground, Hallye “Rascal Splatts” Reed shared her story of faith with a camper she had met at the barn earlier that week. She was floored when the camper responded by asking Splatts to help her pray. She wanted to tell God she trusted Him—just like Splatts! “I wasn’t even doing the ‘work’ I was hired to do,” she said, “but found every moment to be sacred and useful due to God’s faithfulness.”
Eye of the Rider summed up his experience like this: “Before working at camp, I did not expect to be so valued by the Pine Cove staff. I didn’t know so many people would invest in me and genuinely care about my spiritual growth. What I expected to be a ‘punch the clock job’ turned out to be one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”
Overwhelmingly, past wranglers agreed that all their hard work was worth it. They invested lots of sweat, some tears, and even a little blood (baling wire can be sharp!), but in return grew deeper in their relationship with Christ and matured in their understanding of the ministry of work. Their hours might have been spent pouring out through tireless work, but their hearts were consistently filled with the knowledge that those hours were meant for eternal purposes.