Saddling Up Anyway

I love horses and I love to ride but a while back, I took most of a year off from riding. In April of 2008, Too Tall Notch bucked me off as I was getting on. Getting bucked off knocked the wind out of me and made me hurt everywhere from the back of my head to the backs of my heels. I got up and mostly shook it off. Someone caught my horse and my friend Ron Holder came over and held him for me so he wouldn’t buck again while I got back on. Once I was set – meaning I was firmly in the saddle and had the reins shortened up, Ron stepped away. Notch immediately offered to buck again but I kept him under control. We rode on out but Notch was clearly uncomfortable and kept humping up trying to buck. As the shock began to wear off, I was more and more uncomfortable as well. Finally, between his willingness to buck and my increasing pain, I decided I’d had enough so I got off and led Notch back to camp. Even though I was hurting, I had a horse to take care of. I unsaddled him and got him some hay and water. When I unsaddled him, I saw why he bucked. The saddle – a new larger saddle than I was used to riding – hadn’t fit him right. When I went to get him some water, I found that I was unable to pick up an empty bucket with my left arm. That’s when I decided to go see a doctor.

The doctor checked me over and said I had a two sprained rotator cuffs, a “wrenched back” (his words), and “oh yeah, you fractured the ball in your right shoulder.” He gave me a sling and, knowing what I do for a living (fine wine buyer for Spec’s Liquor Stores) said “Now might be a good time to stop spitting and start swallowing.” He also said I shouldn’t try to ride any horses for a while.

Summer and fall passed as I did shoulder and back rehab exercises everyday. December rolled around and I decided it was time. Carol and I went out and rode my two twenty-five-year-old retired Appaloosa geldings. I was a little fearful getting on but once we were mounted up and going, it felt great to be back in the saddle again. It was a good day but the Aps are too old for regular riding (they both have since passed on). It was time to find a new horse. I sent out a note to a bunch of friends outlining what I was looking for and got back several responses.

One of them offered Tank, a twelve-year-old roping horse who met all my requirements. I went out to ride him and scared myself silly. He didn’t act up, I was just hopelessly nervous about getting on again, especially getting on a new horse where I didn’t have a comfort zone. I wound up taking him. After he passed his vet and farrier checks, I put him with a trainer who reported back that she thought he was exactly what I was looking for. All well and good but I still wasn’t riding him. Whenever I had opportunities to ride Tank, I seemed to find reasons not to. Finally I could delay no longer. A ride I’d planned to go on was coming up and I had to ride some before that day. I arranged to ride with my trainer. Tank was good but I was still very nervous the first few times I got on him.

Then came the little trail ride with our friends. It must have been evident to all my friends that I was nervous mounting but mount I did. I had to – my friends were all watching. A friend weighted the saddle for me (pushed down on the “off” stirrup to give it a counter weight as I stepped-in and swung my leg over. We rode out and almost immediately were in the woods riding single file around trees and over fallen logs and up and down steep ravine banks. It was challenging riding but also fun. It would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t been so nervous. Gradually, my confidence began to return. After our lunch stop, I was still nervous getting back on but the ride back to our camp was less challenging so I was more relaxed. That’s when a branch caught and knocked my hat off. I had to stop, dismount and retrieve my hat. No problem. But getting back on in the woods with the other horses and riders off a good distance from me seemed like it could be a problem. It wasn’t. I just did it and in the doing of it with no one to hold Tank or weight the saddle, a weight disappeared. I was immediately more confident. Somehow my hat coming off – which I believe had never happened to me before in all my years of riding – was a gift.

When we got back to camp, one of my friends came over and quietly quoted John Wayne to me. He said “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

I didn’t feel very brave but maybe he and John Wayne are right. But it’s not just courage. There are many things in life that we have to just do. Some can seem unbearable but in the doing of them, I find that I can bear them. The seemingly unbearable thing may be getting up and going to church when I don’t want to or being a friend to someone who is hard to like. Whatever the thing is, we find that the doing of it often makes the thing more than bearable. It can even become enjoyable. And I find that there is often an unanticipated reward. The hard to like person becomes a fast friend. The Sunday service when I feel furthest from God brings me back to Him, brings back the peace that I have been missing. It’s all about “saddling up anyway.”

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