But first, a short interlude:
With the dawning of December it’s finally beginning to feel like winter up here on the East Coast of America.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with friends, family, and delicious food. Every December sunset draws the year closer its final page while edging us closer to the next chapter.
It’s hard to believe 2013 is almost through and yet from what I hear many are eager to see it as only a memory and hope the New Year will bring brighter and happier memories than what they have experienced this past year.
Admittedly, I find myself also looking toward the end of December wondering if January will bring better times than all of the experiences that have gathered against me in 2013. As much as I would love to sit back and watch a New Year bring good fortune, I know that the only way to really create good memories is by getting up and doing just that. Throughout all of the bad and all of the struggles, one of the things I am most thankful for is the freedom to follow these wild dreams I chase and the love and support I receive from friends, family, and even strangers I meet along the way.
I am grateful for your continued support and hope that in the years to come I can share my adventures, both good and bad, and give you a glimpse into the places and people I meet along my path toward my dreams.
Now, on with the show!
The Year of the Spider ~ Part II
I thought back over the ride and breathed in a deep breath of accomplishment. Despite my terrible first impression of Spider, we had successfully gotten past our struggles and learned to move together as a team. I still had the rest of the week to improve and I was happy that things were finally going in the right direction.
As we neared the ranch, my attention shifted from the beauty around me to the change of behavior in Spider. Once again, his ears stood at attention flicking all around him. He looked left and right and seemed on edge. When a squirrel’s machine gun chatter broke out directly beside us he jumped forward, surprising me. I used my newly learned style of control to calm him down and slow him to a steady walk. He whinnied loudly, staring up at the horses ahead while his ears flicked all around him. I couldn’t help but pity him and tried to coax him as we wandered alongside the wooden fences of the ranch’s outer limits.
After a while, Jim turned Fly off the old logging road we had been following and back onto the small dirt paths that meandered throughout the mountains of their ranch home.
Jim and Fly led the way.
Dad and his horse Boo followed.
For some unknown reason he would not go.
Once again, using everything I had practiced so hard to keep him under control, I encouraged him to follow Boo up the path. He didn’t care anymore. He didn’t even seem to realize Boo was in front of him.
He turned toward another path, then stopped again.
He completely ignored all of my carefully practiced commands.
I took a deep breath controlling my frustration and focusing on the proper techniques I had learned. I urged him to follow the path Jim and my Dad had taken and he fought against me become more frantic. As he grew more anxious I reined him in to a halt, trying to take control back into my own hands. When he settled I tried to guide him forward and back on the path only to be met with stronger resistance. The more I tried to command him to follow the path the more nervous he seemed. I kept my balance and form as he trotted a nervous dance between the two paths leading back to the ranch.
Then he bucked and kicked.
I kept my saddle, a little surprised and shocked but was able to rein him in to a halt again. My dad was still ahead of us when I called out in a carefully calm voice “Dad, he tried to throw me.” My dad eased Boo back, watching me as I tried to once again to encourage him to turn onto the path leading back to the ranch. He finally started moving forward and my Dad and Boo turned to continue down the path.
Then he stopped, rearing up and kicking.
I kept my seat but suddenly I was very scared.
I could feel all 1500 pounds of his fear and my trust in him began to falter. When he reared up again, I gripped the saddle horn on instinct and tried to move with him. I felt him buck and kick more violently this time, determined to rid himself of his rider. I held on as well as I could, but by the third or fourth time I knew there was no way I would win a fight with a terrified Spider.
I remember calling out to my Dad as I flew from the seat, my eyes focusing on a splintered stump rushing toward my face. You can’t control yourself in free fall, I thought dimly as it zoomed toward me. When I landed I stared at the fine detail of the splintered bark and kept very still as I listened to frantic hooves beat around me. In my mind I saw the worst as he exacted revenge on the dictator who commanded his every movement.
Instead, I looked up at Spider’s hooves beat the ground in a fury at a full gallop toward home, empty saddle on his back, tail streaming out behind him.
“Are you alright?” I heard my dad’s concern as I sat up, assessing myself for injuries.
“I’m fine,” I assured him. “I’m just shaken up.” Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry.
I carefully climbed up from my place in the dirt, checking my balance and body. No injuries. Had I really been that lucky?
“Where’s your horse?” I couldn’t help but smile as Jim rode back with Fly. My Dad swung down from Boo and offered me the saddle.
Gotta get back in the saddle.
Those words had never rung as true as they did now.
I pulled myself up onto the back of a sleepy Boo and admired the view from his height. He stood calm and patient, half asleep in the warm afternoon sun.
We all looked toward the approaching pickup truck. They’re coming for me. The girl who couldn’t control her horse. The girl who couldn’t keep her saddle. The girl who-
Stop it, I demanded of myself, halting the abusive spiral of negative thoughts.
I couldn’t get in the pickup. It would be the ultimate admission of defeat in failure. Or at least, in my mind. The best I could do to redeem what little pride I had from utter embarrassment was to get back on a horse and ride it in to the ranch.
Yet when they tried to convince me to slide off of Boo and ride back in the pickup my throat closed up, leaving me in defenseless silence.
In the end, it was my Dad who saved me, laughing about age and old knees as he climbed into the passenger seat. I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath until it all came out in a rush.
I leaned down and patted Boo fondly. With a gentle pressure in the thighs, I gave the command and Boo stepped forward, plodding his way back the final stretch.
I sighed, grateful for the ease of control yet frustrated that it had been met with such stubbornness from Spider. I rode in tall (mostly due to Boo’s height) and laughed and joked, assuring everyone that it was just my nerves that were shaken. That, and my pride, of course.
What I didn’t mention to them was the dull ache that I began to feel in my right arm as I sat atop Boo. I had switched the reins to my left hand, finding it painful to grip them and as I climbed down I was startled to find that I couldn’t bend it without a sudden jolt of pain.
Later, I pulled my Dad and Grandpa aside and explained the injury. At the time, it didn’t seem to be much more than a really bad sprain with maybe some torn tissue. I could move my fingers without any issue and the arm wasn’t misshapen nor was there bruising.
The next day I watched as Dad trotted in circles with Boo as he practiced the new riding style with tips from the owner. I watched as my Grandpa saddled up his horse, Casper, and they rode out of the ranch. I stood in their wake wondering what to do with myself.
In the end, I spent some time stretching in the sauna and icing my elbow afterwards. The sauna was nice, but what I really wanted was to jump back up in the saddle and go for another ride, or at least drag the boat back out on the lake and relax as I stared up at lazy clouds floating above me.
More than anything, I struggled with being angry with myself. The day started with a capsized canoe and ended in the dirt with my horse riding off without me. I knew both incidences were completely outside of my control, and I logically understood that there was no justifiable reason to be angry with myself or feel embarrassed, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Sometimes you just can’t silence the voice that whispers cruel lies in the back of your mind.
In the end, I tried to focus on the positive.
I thought of how grateful I was that my Dad had raised me to think with my head and not let panic control my actions or fear control my future.
Even after being tossed into freezing waters I thought through panic and found the best way out of the situation.
Even after being thrown from a frightened 1,500 pound animal I still climbed back into the saddle and rode back.
Life throws us into all kinds of difficult situations, testing our will and our character. I refuse to allow fear or failure defeat me. I refuse to let it control my life.
At least, that’s the plan.