Sunday, June 1, 2014

For Love of a Gray Horse

Remember how you felt the last time you learned something new.

hhhmmmmm? Had to sit and think a moment about this one. I thought, I try to continually be learning something new. I make an effort to do so......but I do know what they are talking about because it's when I get outside my comfort zone and try something completely new that I have those feelings of apprehension, fear of failing or of embarrassing myself. A little story......

I had wanted a horse as long as I could remember. Even though we lived in town, I never could understand why my parents couldn't convert the garage into a barn. I thought the old coal bin inside that old building would make a perfect stall. My parents kept trying to explain to me that it took more than a roof and four walls to keep a horse and anyway, they weren't allowed to be kept within the town proper's borders.

I did ride whenever I could. I had no idea what I was doing. I was a kid and I just rode. Often my friends and I rode in such dangerous places, like down the side of highway, but it was a different time, cars weren't whizzing by. I remember only one car passing us on our hacks. It was full of teenage boys who yelled out, "Hey, pony girl!" at the then teenage me. I remember that same difficult pony taking me over a hedge once when I had only asked to walk. What would terrify me now only made me laugh then.....and to have a feeling of accomplishment for staying  on the horse.

Flash forward close to forty years to a beach in Mexico. I'd taken my husband there for his fiftieth birthday because I knew he would hate the party they had planned for him back home. He was so grateful for that reprieve and so content sitting on that beautiful, sunny beach that he turned to me and asked what amazing gift I was going to expect for my fiftieth that would rival what I'd given him? I think I surprised both of us when I simply said, "A horse."

I wasn't even turning forty-nine until the end of that year but I immediately started my search for that perfect horse as soon as we returned home. The only problem, I had no idea what I was searching for. I quickly learned that everyone, even people who had never been closer to a horse than the mechanical one outside of Wally World, thought they were an equine expert. Those who had actually at least sat in the saddle on a living, breathing, flesh and blood horse well they might have been the worst because most of them offered me horror stories of some horrific fall, shattered lives and even deaths that could be traced back directly to a horse. By the time I did find my perfect horse, a few days short of my birthday in November, I had been educated but I also had been terrified..... but that is not my story of learning.

No one tells you that there is something that happens as we age, we become all too aware of death and the dangers that can lead to it. I think perhaps we start feeling like we are living on borrowed time anyway especially as we start losing friends so unexpectedly. We begin to realize how fragile and precarious our existence is. Then, you decide that you're going to get a horse and take up riding again and all anyone can tell you is how dangerous the sport is, how easily that beautiful, gentle creature with the soulful eyes can kill you. Yeah, that does do something to your self confidence alrighty.

So, I got the horse, which my first instructor took one look at and said, "This horse is way too good for you." She was right of course although it did hurt my feelings at the time. That horse was also too smart for me and I think she learned me much faster than I learned her. Over the last ten years, we have come to terms, written our peace agreement and yes, even fallen in love.....actually, I think she's fallen in love with me although she hates to admit that but me, I fell head over heels the first time I looked at her. So, there is the other problem, I'm smitten and the horse was just darn smart. She played me like Django Reinhardt could play a well tuned guitar.

It seems that every time I'd get in the saddle, all of those horror stories I'd been told would come rushing into my brain and push all logic and intelligence out. Also, there is a problem with my personality, as my husband (and numerous riding instructors) has told me too many times to count, I think too much. I analyze everything to death, I think of every possible thing that can go wrong. So, I do know the fears of failure, embarrassment and oh, yes...injury which can all result from trying something new. But there is something all of that fear did not know about me, I can be one stubborn b*tch. Despite falls, despite overwhelming fear that led to panic attacks before each lesson, despite instructors who later admitted to me that they thought those fears would keep me from ever becoming a rider, I kept getting back in the saddle.

It was certainly not an over night success story. I had years of conditioning under my belt then that kept me almost literally on the ground and in the dust more than I was in the saddle. But then a blessing came into my life in the form of an 85 year old man, Huston Jenkins. He was the one who raised Mouse and also, two more of my horses. He's the one who bred Mouse for me to produce my boy, Danny. His first piece of advice that forever changed my riding was simple but full of truth, "Just stay in the saddle, Sande." Suddenly, I realized that failure is a choice. I was the one who kept bailing when the going got tough or scary. Then he gave me another piece of advice that not only improved my riding but my life, "You know, things can just as easily turn out good as bad." That might sound just like perfect logic to everyone reading this but to me, it was an epiphany. I went to my next lesson and I rode with such confidence that my instructor just stood there with wide eyes of astonishment watching me. She even asked me afterwards, what I'd done with Sande.

I was riding Mouse on my farm one day when we came to a big hill and I let her have her head and gallop up it. It was so much fun! Afterwards, I called my former instructor and told her about this amazing breakthrough and she touched my heart when she told me that she'd taken riders to national championships but she'd never been prouder of anyone than she was of me in that moment because she knew what I'd overcome to get from the fear of even mounting the horse to giving her her head and letting her run free up that hillside. So how did I feel in that moment of learning something new, something I'd been so afraid of? I felt very proud, confident, over joyed and FREE!

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