Unfiltered

Practicing Courage

I wake up. I open my eyes and am immersed in a wave of feeling scared. I pull my blanket up to my nose and think to myself: Today I’m going to ride a horse.

IMG_0872The last time I rode a horse, I was 9 years old and the horse was one of my dear companions. It was suddenly spooked and tried to buck me off. It has been thirteen years and I still remember the fear rattling through my bones as I held onto the reigns for dear life.

Riding horses used to be a passion of mine, until that day. I was weary of the trust that was broken in an instant. I spent the next couple of weeks taking care of the horses at the ranch, trying to get over the idea that history would repeat itself.

After those two weeks, a situation happened that taught me to fear horses as a whole. I remember my mom receiving a phone call that my 3-year-old cousin was kicked in the face by a horse. She cried more than I had seen her cry before.

I remember going to the hospital with my family every day for a never-ending period of time. My schedule consisted of getting hospital food and playing card games with my dad while my mom consoled my aunt in my cousin’s hospital room.

I wasn’t allowed to go into that room, and that was okay with me. Every family member that came out of that room looked like they had seen a ghost. I didn’t know that they saw a 3-year-old boy with a hole in his face; I only knew that I now hated horses, because they had caused so much upset in my family.

As we drive up the dirt road to the Lazy H Ranch, butterflies and memories flood my system. I meet my teacher, Almondine, at the gates. Her and her two dogs greet me with a happy hello. She asks if I’m excited, and I smile. I don’t want her to see my fear.

Maggie Stack walks her horse, Little Bear, from the field to a nearby post. Photo by McKenna Stack.

Maggie Stack walks her horse, Little Bear, from the field to a nearby post. Photo by McKenna Stack.

We go to the field filled with horses.

Almondine instructs me to catch a horse, I laugh awkwardly. She smiles, tells me to follow her, and together we catch a dark horse called Mystic. We walk Mystic across the field to a post where her saddle and a bunch of brushes reside.

Almondine then talks me through the multitude steps of prepare a horse for riding: moving a rubber brush in circles on her back to lightly massage the muscles, brushing her face, body and legs with a bristle brush to rid the hair of dirt, picking her hooves to provide comfort. She leaves me for 10 minutes to groom the massive creature.

Maggie Stack talks to her horse, Little Bear, while taking a break from grooming. Photo by McKenna Stack.

Maggie Stack talks to her horse, Little Bear, while taking a break from grooming. Photo by McKenna Stack.

When I am left alone with the horse, I feel awkward. I begin by treating Mystic as if she were a dog. I pet her mane, talk to her in a scrunched voice, and express adoration towards her beauty. I become silent, embarrassed by my coping mechanisms in times of fear.

I watch her big body breathe underneath all of the brushing that I am pursuing. I realize how gentle she is; how we met several minutes ago and already she is letting me care for her.

IMG_9782

Maggie Stack hugs Little Bear after a grooming session. Photo by McKenna Stack

I pick up the soft brush. She takes a big sigh when the brush touches her neck and I pull back immediately, startled by her reaction. I take a deep breath and start to brush her neck again.

I feel Mystic’s gentle nudge on my shoulder. I turn to look at her and she waits. She stares right back into my eyes. I raise my brush to start brushing her forehead. As I proceed, I decide to pet her nose with the hand that isn’t holding the brush, feeling her warmth and softness. She closed her eyes as I moved my fingertips up to her forehead and traced her round cheeks. I swear, she was smiling.

I stood there, loving something that I once found so frightening. There was no reason to be scared of this creature. I was a little girl again, filled with openness, curiosity, and had all of the love in the world to give. Fear was absent from this part of me.

Then, it hit me.

That little girl inside me, whom I hold so dear to my heart, has been lost in the transition of graduating from college. As I’ve gone through the process, with its many challenges, I realize the role that fear played.

The openness is overshadowed by the fears of dreams not coming true and not having the right answer when someone asks, “What are you doing next year?”

The curiosity is replaced with the fear of not wanting to stray from “the plan” that has been worked on since entering college, the plan that has changed so many times and needs to be finalized.

The free-giving love is protected by the fear of saying goodbye in two months; saying goodbye to Portland, saying goodbye to beloved friends, saying goodbye to “fake” life and saying hello to “real” life.

Fear protects me from getting hurt in the process of ending something so comfortable and having uncertainty about what comes next. It’s ironic that I hurt anyways; fear drives away any notions of comfort.

Maggie steers Johnny Walker toward a barrel during a lesson. Photo by McKenna Stack.

Maggie steers Johnny Walker toward a barrel during a lesson. Photo by McKenna Stack.

Transitions come easily for some people; transitions are tough for some people. It is so easy to be fearful when hard situations come our way. In an act of overcoming my fear of riding horses, I received a reminder to not be afraid of “what’s next”. The answers that I find so frightening now will lovingly nudge my shoulder when the time is right.

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