I recently flew to Colorado to join friends for a long weekend in Denver. It was the first time I’d spent more than one night away from home in three years, and I had traveler’s remorse for leaving so much undone to take this spontaneous trip. I got over it once we arrived at our little cabin and proceeded to laugh for hours. I dare you to grin ear-to-ear for any length of time, and see if you can come up with a downside to anything. That kind of therapy can’t be bought.
By Saturday we were still laughing, but recovered enough to take Sarah’s horses for an afternoon ride. We were loving life as we rode up a dun-colored hill in a beautiful valley outside Littleton, on what seemed to be the last gorgeous fall day in the Rockies. It wasn’t long, though, before we turned back. Augie misbehaved and we thought better of taking to the open fields. My companions were satisfied with the short jaunt, but I wanted more.
Don Wayne Owens, Sarah’s charming husband, is a real horseman. He’s also a gifted storyteller, and I swear I saw the opening scene to a movie in a snippet he shared about his past as an apprentice to famous Colorado cowboy, Pat Tellier. When we ambled back to the barn, I headed for the indoor ring and asked Don if he would help me canter, just for the thrill of it. I saw him hesitate, maybe assessing whether I would be able to pull it off. I think he didn’t want me to lose, for my sake. But he tipped back his hat and said, “Well yes ma’am, I think you can.”
An educated horse is a joy for a well-trained rider, which frankly, I am not. I think the best thing I have going for me is the fact that I’m not afraid – most of the time – in the saddle. My mother loved horses and I caught the fever, coddling my plastic palominos and wishing they would morph into the real thing right through my pre-teen years. I rode for several months when I first moved to the mountains, but the drama at the stables was too much, and when my next remodel presented itself I turned my attention to flooring and paint colors and ripping out cabinetry.
So this was the first time I’d ridden in years, and here I was on Finesse, a beautiful dark pinto with a horsy education equivalent to a Ph.D. I imagine she rolled her eyes when I climbed aboard. Don calmly reminded me to keep my hands still and “in the box,” my toes pointed in, and my eyes on the place I wanted the horse to go. She knew exactly what to do, he said. A slight pressure on the inside rein, tap with the outside heel, and a click of the tongue. That’s how Finesse was trained to move seamlessly from a walk to a canter.
I made a dozen attempts before I managed to stop grasping too tightly with my lower legs, to train my eyes forward and keep my hands from flapping wildly (all signals that interfere with the desired outcome.) But when I finally got it right and we were in a proper, lovely canter in that dusty ring, a huge smile broke out across my face and I called out, “I get it! Don, I get it!” The joy was almost overwhelming.
At the barn, they call it “The School of Don.” Mr. Owens calls it life’s little victories. He explains that when someone has an interest that turns into a connection with a horse, the door is opened to a series of triumphs that can add up big time. Riders earn the horse’s trust and respect and give themselves the opportunity to win, in measured increments.
This happens when we cultivate any passion. We can turn minor curiosity into big achievements, with time. We all benefit from projects and activities that allow us to train our eyes on the future, on where we want to go, and the little successes spur us to continue. A sport, hobby or new vocation can help us focus on our abilities and what we want to achieve – the things we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.
We accrue confidence, win by win, that adds up to pride in who we are and what we can do. The concentration allows us to move our attention away from circumstances that aren’t so great. Just remember that like most things in life, our pursuit doesn’t always advance perfectly. We may not get it right the first time, but the process of persistence, dedication, discipline and repetition helps us reach a level of mastery. Oh, and you have to want it.
Depend on a sense of adventure to remind you that the big payoff might be right around the corner, and focus your thoughts on the path you want to take. Keep that horse moving forward. Soon enough, a walk will turn into a run, and you’ll say, “Look what I’ve accomplished!” Laugh and ride, my friends. Laugh and ride.
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