I could've easily named this post "I wonder..." As in, I wonder what would've happened if I chose a different direction at the cross road instead of the one I did. This post is a wander about my past, the part that ended after high school but didn't really start anywhere else. If anything it was a journey of figuring things out, the journey that never ends. It's also a musing about horses in my life.
So it begins: a couple years after I graduated high school my mother recognized that I was directionless yet unwilling to go to college. This is where I get to place blame (tongue firmly pressed in cheek). She suggested I take horseback riding lessons. Yes, it was her idea. She knew I loved horses because I spent many childhood weekends with a friend who had a couple Appaloosas: Jeanne and Makoola. And whenever we went on vacation I'd insist on at least one trail ride at the nearest tourist trap. You know the place: the horses are dull, muddy and shaggy. The barns are falling down and the wranglers look like they spend the other half of their year working in amusement parks. In other words, no one is really making a good living, including the horses.
For once, I took my mother's advice and found a stable advertised in the Yellow Pages (this was before the Internet) that offered lessons on lesson horses. That was even more rare back in the 80s. I loved taking lessons, loved really learning how to ride, loved learning how to put on actual saddles and bridles. In short order I started cleaning stalls in exchange for taking riding lessons. I was like an 8 year old except I was a couple years out of high school. I had a full time office job and I paid rent on my own apartment or room in someone's house. Not really like an 8 year old except in attitude and enthusiasm.
Not long after that I started working for a Quarter Horse trainer who was in her early 30s at the time. I started out grooming and getting her horses ready for her then I got to ride some of her horses. Plus I had two of my own horses by then. It was really great. Except at the time I didn't see a future in what I was doing. Maybe she had a bad string of horses at that moment. A couple of them were dangerous. One mare was fine, except when she was in heat and then she'd lose her mind and forget everything we worked on prior to that time. Bucking became her hobby. It could've been the training methods at the time. I remember a lot of wet saddle blankets, a lot of insisting and little understanding about horsemanship at least on my part. The other horse would fling himself against the wall when the trainer tried to put anything resembling a girth around his middle. The trainer nearly got hurt at least once. That scared me. Plus maybe the day to day business of training wasn't very interesting to me. I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with the two horses I was working with. One simply could not or would not pick up her right lead. If I got her to pick it up once, I was happy but I needed her to pick it up twice to end the session, at least in my mind. And it often didn't work. Picking up the right lead seemed like luck rather than an actual grasp or acceptance. I was very frustrated. And a little afraid of the mare that was sweet one day and bronc-y the next. Plus the horse that flung himself against the wall. The only good horses we had were our own. And my hours got cut so I found another office job. With no future.
That's when I started thinking about college. I thought about CalPoly's equestrian program but I wasn't sure about moving all the way down to California when I'd pretty much never left the state, except for family vacations in Oregon. Plus I didn't know how I was going to keep both horses.
I ended up going to a local community college. And made a decision about my two horses that I still don't understand, except that I was completely unprepared for follow-through and commitment. I sold both my horses and focused on my education. As if there was no room in my life except for education. I didn't understand balance either. Perhaps I'm a little bit of a fanatic.
Mentoring under the QH trainer who 30 years later has a very successful business is one road I didn't take. The other road was going to CalPoly, in California, and having an adventure I couldn't possibly imagine and definitely was not brave enough to take then. Bravery and adventure came later, during the latter years of college when I took a summer job as a wildland firefighter and traveled all over the U.S. and in parts of Canada. That particular adventure ended 10 years later (14 years ago). Having horses wove in an out of my life over those years but follow-through and commitment were still big struggles for me mostly because I lack imagination and faith. I couldn't possibly see how things were going to work out, that they were going to be okay if I followed through during the tough times and remained committed to my passion. The trouble with committing to one passion I suppose is that I'm actually passionate about a number of things and I have a scientist's curiosity.
I have no doubt that I took the right road, even now when the road in my career is bumpy and the future is blurred at best (10 more years!!). However, I also know that I have a curiosity about horsemanship that I'd never had before and thankfully I have a horse that is a teacher because he continually challenges my linear thinking. I also have a patient trainer, who is imaginative and flexible. I can't clearly see where this road is going to lead but it's a good road because I'm doing what I love on many levels. Still, I'm enthralled when I see people doing many interesting things with horses and I wonder what might've been had I chosen either of those other roads.