Lesson from a Horse

silverToday I was reminded of one of the earliest lessons I learned in life, the importance of Getting Back Up On the Horse. It happened when I was the tender age of three-ish and my parents decided to buy me a pony. His name was “Silver” and he was a Shetland Pony stallion. For those who know a thing or two about this particular breed, they are NOT the best choice for children despite their petite stature. They are temperamental, headstrong, frisky … and they bite. Silver was oblivious to my devotion, even though I brought him sugar cubes and carrots. He turned left when I wanted to go right; he galloped when I wanted to trot. And just as soon as my parents put me up on his back and turned their heads, he’d head for a tree with the lowest branch. He feared no one.

My dad thought that once Silver was “fixed” (that’s fancy talk for turning a stallion into a gelding), he’d “simmer right down” but, alas, this was not the case. Still, there were lessons to be learned in owning and caring for an animal, and my folks were determined that I should learn them. I knew at a tender age that I was Silver’s caretaker. I learned early that the animals were dependent upon us for their care – that’s why they got fed and watered first. We did not sit down to the table until the livestock had been fed and the water troughs filled to the top. I was taught to “walk down” my horse after a hard ride, to stop and check periodically for a rock in its hoof, and NEVER EVER take my anger out on an animal.

And so the day that Silver decided to exert his independence and show me who was really the boss was, for me, a humiliating betrayal of world class proportion. I had just hopped up on his back and clicked my heels for a slow walk around the pasture, when Silver took off down the hill at break-neck speed, running through the hedge of poplar trees attempting to dislodge me, then coming to a screeching halt at the bottom, and bucking me off! I sailed through the air and landed flat on my face. There were no broken bones, but my spirit was shattered! I vividly remember my dad running out to the middle of the pasture, pulling out his hankerchief to wipe the dirt out of face, and telling me “Get ahold of yourself, Piggo, and Get Back Up On The Horse!”

Naturally, this was the last thing I wanted to do. “How could Silver do this to me?” I wailed. Oh, I was heartbroken. And then betrayal turned to anger. “I NEVER want to RIDE THAT HORSE AGAIN! Dad, YOU’RE GONNA GET ME KILLED!”

Those six words – Get Back Up On The Horse – were often repeated to me during my childhood and adolescent years. I heard them when I came in last place at my first horse show, and when I didn’t win a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair. I heard them when I failed my first audition for jazz choir and when I missed my final attempt in high jump at the state championship track meet. I heard them when I crashed my powder blue AMC Gremlin at the age of 16. I heard them after the demise of my first marriage. And I heard them when I crawled my way back to the Land of the Living. Truthfully, I hear those six words every time something I do flops, goes south, or fails to flourish. These are also the words I say when I feel I have failed myself, the only failure I truly fear.

After a lifetime of climbing back up on metaphorical horses, here is what I know … The world is not always gentle. Perfection is rarely sustained. Success is never permanent (and neither is failure). But the value of a single moment is immeasurable. And that moment when you take a deep breath, face your present fear, press forward and try again – that moment when you Get Back Up On The Horse – well, that moment is priceless.

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