Clip clop, clip clop. The rhythmic saunter of the horse was a peaceful lullaby. It was a lovely, relaxed morning on the south Texas ranch and I felt like melted butter in the English saddle. James, the official barn hound dog, relaxed in the sun while he watched my lesson with casual interest. Chickens pecked the ground in search of leftover grain as Tina, my riding instructor, told me to proceed to a trot.
“Max, trot,” I urged the elegant animal beneath me.
At once, Max began his springy, pogo stick of a trot. My heart jumped to my throat and fear took its place in my chest. The world seemed to move in nauseatingly slow motion as I felt my body slip away from the saddle. I tumbled through the air like a rag doll. My last thought as the ground came hurdling toward my face was, “Gee, I hope I don’t land on a chicken…”
CRACK! My riding helmet, designed to protect my fragile head, shattered when I hit floor of the sandpit. I lay motionless in the dirt wondering how long it would be before Max would step on my unprotected skull and finish me off.
Okay… so that is not exactly what happened. But, I promise that is how it played out in my mind. To the spectators, it looked much less dramatic. Max began to trot and I panicked. Keenly aware of my body language, the sensitive horse knew I was uncomfortable and came to an abrupt stop. I may have jiggled around a bit, but never came close to actually falling.
“He quit on you,” said Tina, stating the obvious. “Do you know why?”
“Yes,” I admitted shamefully. “I freaked out and tensed up. Max knew I was afraid so he stopped. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I’m fine at the walk, but as soon as he begins to trot I feel completely out of control.”
All of the same old negative feelings flooded my thoughts. What was I doing here anyway? I was too old for this. No one takes up riding at 39. I was a (almost) middle-aged woman. I must be crazy. At this rate, I would be 60 by the time I could canter. I should just pack up and go home where I belong. Besides, if I fell and broke a hip who would cook for my family? You get the idea.
I looked at Tina, who was shaking her head. Even James was eyeing me with disappointment.
“I want you to do something for me,” Tina prompted. “Close your eyes. Now, I want you to imagine yourself riding. Picture yourself riding the way you would someday like to ride. What does the horse look like? Maybe it’s the horse you someday want to own. Now, tell me about it.”
I let my imagination take me away on a beautiful Palomino. We were on the beach at sunset. The horse’s thick mane was flying in the salty breeze. I looked happy, confident and free. And, guess what? We were not walking. We were galloping.
When I shared these thoughts with Tina, she had an interesting reply.
“That dream can be your reality. The problem is all in your head. At some point you have to learn to let go and trust the horse to take you where you want to go.”
Her words hit me like a slap in the face. Although she was unaware, Tina had just described my entire life in a nutshell. How many times had I backed down from a challenge because I was afraid? I did not want to continue walking the rest of my life when God was urging me to let loose and gallop. I wanted His best for me. God’s best is not always comfortable. Sometimes it is downright frightening.
I had spent so much time making sure I always felt comfortable and in control that I had forgotten to live my life with a thrilling sense of adventure and joy. When was I going to trust God to take me where I wanted to go?
I looked down at Max. His ears were swiveling back and forth as if he could hear all my deepest thoughts.
I sank deep down in the saddle and shortened my reins as I prompted, “Max, trot.”
This time I made it two times around the arena. It was a beginning.
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