Such an array of extreme emotions, so many choices – Dreams and fears are real here and more than just voices.
A few years ago, I attended a “graduation” of sorts at Warm Springs Institute in Georgia. The ceremony marked the end of a rehabilitation program designed to merge challenged citizens into the real world as productive citizens. Most were learning to cope with physical handicaps as a result of birth complications or due to impairing accidents. Some, like my brother, were dealing with brain irregularities. They were all taught certain skills which co-coordinated with their individual interests and capabilities. Celebrations ran high. They were so proud of their achievements. We were proud of them. They now felt like they had a place, a chance to blend with the “normal” world. This marked the end of the struggle and was just the beginning of a new and better life. Such high hopes and expectations. It was such an emotional day, so full of promise after living through such hardships. I cried as they laughed.
Fast forward to last weekend where I attended the Ultimate Rescue Challenge sponsored by the Georgia Equine Rescue League. Not unlike the graduates mentioned above, these horses had survived indescribable hardships of abuse and starvation. They were hurt, damaged and fearful of what the world had to offer them – kindness or cruelty? They had undergone a 120 day training session to get them ready for the real world – a permanent home. What I saw was an impossibly strong connection between horse and trainer that allowed these equine partners to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and give their all. Were they perfect? Of course not and some would never be able to function as a normal “riding”horse. But they all had value and gave everything they possibly could. They all had a place where they could excel in the right setting and situation. Much like the graduates of Warm Springs, these graduates of rescue were being celebrated for their accomplishments and potential while being painfully aware of the limitations. I cried as their stories were told.
Wondering what the future holds.
The possibilities are endless as to the future of these graduates – both human and horse. Graduation Day was the high point of their lives so far and then tomorrow it all ends and they are thrown into the world, ready or not. The world can be a wonderful place with an ending that they live happily ever after in the perfect homes and jobs, or ….. Only time will tell how well they can fill in the gaps needed to make it all work out for the best and what their destiny will be. It is hard enough to make it without dealing with unfair handicaps. I choose to believe that, given a chance, they will change the way they have had to look at the world and put the darker side behind them. I watched the culmination of those graduations and felt all those emotions stir inside me that an unfortunate past and unknown future holds. I was moved by the euphoric sensations and just as strongly fearful of the outcome. I prayed for the best and I cried.
It had been a very long time, a good many years – Since I turned it all loose, put away all my fears.
Years ago when my nephew was a youngster, I took him to Six Flags Amusement Park to ride the rides. Looming bigger than life was a roller coaster aptly named the Mind Bender. I was determined to show him the thrill of his young life by demanding we ride it. He was adamantly opposed to it. His fear was obvious but I insisted, confident that once he experienced it, the thrill would override any misgivings he may have. I just needed to get him through it. We stood in line for 45 minutes before our turn to get in the car came up. He promptly jumped in and even more quickly hopped back out and darted back down the ramp. Now I was getting peeved. After all, he was being ridiculous and overreacting. I retrieved my nephew, got back in line and was safely locked into the seat before letting go of his hand. He was terrified. I thought it was great fun and just knew he was going to love it – he just didn’t know it yet. The entire ride was spent with his eyes squeezed tightly shut and shouting: “I’m going to tell my mom”. All the way home he was pouty and I knew I was going to be in big trouble with my sister. When we got to the house, he jumped out of the car and burst through the door to find him mom. I followed behind and was shocked to hear him squealing excitedly: “Guess what I did? I rode the Mind Bender!!!!”. He was bragging about it and jumping up and down with excitement over his thrilling accomplishment.
I can’t help but think about that summer day so many years ago everytime I ask my young horse to step out of his comfort zone and “get over it”. His fear and hesitation of the unknown is so real and terrifying even if I know it is unwarranted. Perception is reality, even to horses – especially to horses. Am I being fair? How hard should I push to get the job done but not cross that delicate line where trust falls away and terror takes over? How much is too much at any given time? How do I bring him through to the other side where he is proudly proclaiming “‘I did it” or “that’s easy, let’s do it again”? I am not sure exactly what the final analysis of that ride on the roller coaster would sound like if you asked my nephew. We still continued to have a great aunt/nephew relationship but I can’t help feeling that maybe I pushed just a little too much and that ultimate trust was broken. Although, it was a huge leap and nothing remotely bad happened- in fact quite the opposite- he never wanted to go back to Six Flags with me. I am careful to not let that happen with my horse.
But if you think you’ll convince me to be changing my ways – You’ve got another think coming because I know what pays
We were standing looking out over the pasture at my horses and discussing my mare, Guilty. She had come a long way since I found her and made her my horse against everyone’s advice. She had been a pasture ornament for the prior 6 years and was quite a project for me to take on. She was overweight, her feet were in bad shape from lack of regular trimming and her attitude was off the charts – Stubborn, smart and pushy. not to mention the fact that she hadn’t been ridden in years. Still, I liked her – a lot – and I was determined that we could work all this out. So, I was talking with my stepdaughter, who was my biggest adversary when I decided to buy this horse. She was on the show circuit and had another big handsome “turn-key” horse selected for me. Something “more suitable” and was upset that I had my own ideas about it. I was proudly telling her about the progress we were making when she made the following comment: “It was that horse’s lucky day when you found her”. My surprised heart soared with what I thought was a compliment on my horsemanship skills. The moment was short-lived when she finished her statement with: “Anyone else would have gotten rid of her a long time ago”. I will never forget how that comment made me feel. Sure, Guilty is not show horse quality, but she is a registered gorgeous dappled smoky buckskin quarterhorse with more personality and kindness than any other horse I have ever met. At first, my high took a nose-dive and my ego crashed and burned with disappointment. I was hurt and humiliated that she gave my opinion no value whatsoever and turned up her nose at my beloved horse. Then, over the course of the next few months, whenever that conversation came to mind, I started to get angry. Guilty wasn’t perfect then and certainly isn’t now but she reminds me a lot of myself. She is the safest horse I own. I do not hesitate to put my 2 year old grandson on her bareback and lead her around. I have put an 82 year old grandfather on her who had just had a hip replacement and literally took almost a full minute to pull himself up into the saddle and get situated. Guilty stood perfectly still while he struggled. She is the one that I get for small children or frightened adult riders. She is the best teacher for beginners because she demands respect and courtesy before she will comply. Guilty was the patient mount I rode to pony my young colt. When I shattered my ankle (an injury I endured while riding that same step daughter’s high dollar prize show horse, by the way), my first steps without my crutches were leading Guilty because I knew that if I stumbled she would bear my weight calmly and not panic if I fell. My first ride after that life-altering injury was on her back while I was still in my cast. She was the only one I trusted in my most vulnerable condition. It was Guilty who rebuilt my confidence.
I trust Guilty
It is Guilty’s eye on the front of the cover of Knowing Horses by Heart The heart in her pupil is real and not photo shopped. She has the most incredible smell.
Now, when I think about that comment, I can smile. Yes, maybe it was her lucky day when I found her, but really, who is the lucky one?