Thursday, April 20, 2017

Back in the saddle

Perhaps you've heard the adage "Get back in the saddle".  It's typically used to tell you to keep trying, not to give up because you failed or "fell off the horse".

When I was 14 years old, I went to an adventure camp with my youth group.  There were three options, and I chose the least expensive: horseback riding.  The first half of the camp offered all campers an overnight excursion on horseback.  I decided that the only thing better than a two day horseback trip was an over night trip and a two day trip!  We saddled up and headed out to the great unknown. After a couple of hours, we made camp.  The other campers and I helped gather firewood and start a campfire, then the counselors prepared a meal.  We rolled out our sleeping bags and shared ghost stories around the campfire.  We were warned to be on the lookout for snakes, especially in our sleeping bags and when we used the restroom (in the bushes).  I didn't sleep at all.  I was terrified of snakes and my over-active imagination placed one in my sleeping bag anytime I heard stirring.  I also didn't visit the bush-bathroom the whole time.  I was very relieved when we broke camp shortly after sunrise and headed back to the bunkers!  My very full bladder and I rode uncomfortably for the two hours back.  After relieving myself (such sweet relief!!!) I called my parents and begged them to pay the extra money so that I could go on a different excursion.  I don't remember what the third option was, I chose the one that had bathrooms!

After 2 days of whitewater rafting and an overnight camp-out at a civilized campground, we had just one day of fun planned before starting out drive home: ranch-hand fun and games.  After several activities, we played boys versus girls "dress a calf".  The object of the game was to see which team could most quickly capture a loose calf and dress him in a pair of blue jean cut-off shorts.  Since the rodeo style arena was so large, there were several ranch hands on horseback to keep the calf corralled to half the arena.  The boys went first and made quick work of capturing the calf, but had some trouble getting it dressed.  It was now the girls' turn and we were determined to beat their time.  Off we went, and the poor calf was more than a little terrified at the prospect of being dressed up again.  He ran right, then left, then quickly cut back and ran behind one of the mounted ranch hands.  This spooked the horse, who reared up, then kicked his back legs out.  His right foot with a horseshoe pounded into my front left hip.  I was instantly on the ground, doubled over in terrible pain.  I don't remember if the game continued or who won, but I was quickly bundled off to the camp medic.

I was told that I had been very fortunate that the kick connected with my hip bone.  Had it landed more central, I could have been very seriously injured, could have lost the ability to have children, and might have even died.  Very quickly an unwanted souvenir raised; a horseshoe shaped bruise.  Despite pain medication and constant icing, the 7 hour drive home in a church van was extremely unpleasant.

That was the last time that I was anywhere near a horse, until this month, 28 years later.  I earned a free vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic through my company (Jamberry).  They provided for everything, including a day of excursions with three options.  One was a waterfall tour.  It was sold out by the time I registered.  The second option was a zip-line excursion.  Not yet ready to conquer my fear of heights, I opted for door number 3: a horseback ride and dip in a cenote pool.  That was in January, so I had several months to mentally prepare to meet a horse again.

I did a great job of reassuring myself that the accident when I was 14 was a very unusual circumstance, and that it was almost impossible that it would be repeated.  I psyched myself up for the fun, the adventure, the feeling of accomplishment of being on top of the horse and enjoying the scenery.  What I was not prepared for was how physically un-prepared I was for the experience.  After 5 years of battling an immune disorder, my health is stable, but not stellar.  Thanks in part to fatigue and steroids to prevent adverse reaction to my immunity treatments, my weight has climbed to almost as much as I weighed when pregnant with my last child.  Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle has robbed me of much of my strength.

There were 9 people in my excursion group.  I was the heaviest, and I think I was also the oldest.  I was definitely the most out-of-shape.  The staff took all other riders, one-by-one and they mounted their horses.  They were walking around the arena, getting used to each other when it was finally my turn.  Instead of 1 helper, I had 3.  They knew... and I was embarrassed.  I wanted to explain that I wasn't just another lazy, fat American, but time constraints and language barriers meant that wasn't an option.  I put my left foot in the stirrup and tried to push up, but I couldn't lift myself high enough off the ground to get in the saddle.  The lead staff member suggested that I stand on the bench outside, so the horse, the 3 workers and myself headed outside of the arena.  Another worker cleared the helmets off the bench and I climbed up.  It took two tries, but I did it!  I was on top of the horse!  Except the horse wasn't having it.  I don't know if he was just feisty, sensed my discomfort or was just having a bad day, but he started to buck.  The staff swung into immediate action and pulled me down from the horse, then calmed him.

I was defeated.  I conquered my fear of horses mentally, accepted help to overcome the physical challenges, and now I was the only one of my group on the ground, again.  I wanted to crawl into a hole, I wanted to go back to the registration center and plant myself in a safe chair and await the return of everyone else.  But the staff brought another horse.  He was sweet, but stubborn, and didn't want to stand next to the bench.  I stood on the bench, while they worked to re-position him several times.  My face stung with shame and un-spilled tears blurred my vision. My legs quivered with the aftermath of effort from mounting the first horse.  When they finally lined him up, the lead staff member helped me by pushing my bottom up while I tried to mount the saddle. I swung an exhausted leg over the top of the horse and finally smiled, I was up on top again.  Now, we were off on our adventure.  I clung tightly to my horse, realizing that If I fell off while we were out, I wouldn't be able to get back on.

Our ride through the mountainside was beautiful.  There were many birds and butterflies, and a slight breeze.  When we arrived back at the corral a half hour later, I was quite ready to NOT be on a horse.

Two weeks later, as I was looking at my pictures, I thought about the old saying "get back in the saddle" and reflected on my experience.  My first experiences with horses were scary and painful.  I was able to overcome that mental challenge and try again, but I didn't figure in the physical challenges that I would face.  I didn't think about the fact that I might have to get back on top more than once.  I didn't factor in that I would need outside assistance and creative rigging.  "One and Done" was going to be enough, but it wasn't.

As I think about applying this lesson to other areas of my life, I am reminded that family, home, work, business... little is as we thought it would be.  Sometimes it takes a monumental mental effort to face a fear or challenge.  Sometimes that effort is not rewarded as we expected.  Often, our desires require more of us than we are prepared to give, more than we have inside of ourselves.  While I wanted to give up, there was help available to me.  Those standing by my side were committed to the goal of getting me on the horse.  They didn't need to know my backstory and motivation.  They didn't have to share the reasoning behind the goal.  Their motivation was different than mine, but the goal was the same, and that worked in my favor.

I am planning to take the lessons that I learned through this and allow others to help me.  I hope to not feel the need to explain myself or question their motives.  I also hope to look for others who need to "get back in the saddle" and lend help when I can.  I hope you do too.

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