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Wild Ride on Mustang Sally--A Metaphor for life

A recent wild ride on Mustang Sally turns out to be a metaphor for my life, and for many people's lives. It has theological implications as well.

First a little background and a comment on synchronicity. 


This wild ride story really starts with my book WindWalker: Journey into Science, Self, and Spirit that was about my wild rides on the Harley and spiritual adventures. After riding my Harley through the WindWalker years, I sold my old friend, a '93 Heritage Softail. As the years went by, every spring especially, I would get interested in horses.

This was in part a hangover from my childhood. I had a brief love affair about horses as a child, but after falling off one that was in a dead run and having another almost run me down, my interests drifted elsewhere.

My wife and common sense kept my horse interest at bay however. There was no way to afford all the associated expenses. We had a ten acre mini-farm, which at the time had two goats and 13 chickens. Most of the land was unfenced and covered by forest and brush. Not a setting for keeping a horse.

Despite the common sense, my interest kept getting more intense year after year. So at 59 I made a decision. I would see if I could find someone to teach me to ride in exchange for handyman work. I had shut down my private counseling practice and found that there was pretty good demand for my skills as a handyman. Enters Carl and Brenda Rathz of CBR Horses.

Carl and Brenda were local horse trainers. Brenda agreed to let me do some handyman work on their barn in exchange for riding lessons. Riding lessons once a week only peaked my interest. I wanted more.

Not too far into this arrangement, a therapist job at a boys school literally dropped into my life. This is a story of synchronicity into itself that I may go into in another article.

Synchronicity is a term introduced by psychiatrist, Carl Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. It refers to occurrences, which on the surface appear as coincidental but are anything but. For example in WindWalker I talk about the synchronicity of meeting a fellow Harley rider at the university that had just finished a counseling program there. I didn't even know they had one and had been looking for such a program.

My new schedule precluded me taking additional lessons from Brenda, but Carl could accommodate my work schedule. So I switched to lessons with him. We hit it off, and even though very different personalities, we complimented each other.

With my new job, which paid me better than my professor job at the university, we suddenly had the funds to think about fencing and fixing the place up for horses. Over my wife's rather strong reservations, she and I went ahead and started working on these.

I wanted more than riding I had decided. I loved the way Carl worked with horses--his use of natural horsemanship and horse psychology. I wanted to train my own horses. I yearned for the horse-man relationship dynamics that was possible. Enters Apache...


In my readings I had developed a passion for mustangs: their wildness and the West they symbolized. Being a West Texas boy, these sang out my name. They called to me. I decided to look for a mustang. In retrospect, not the brightest decision I ever made.

As it turned out Clemson University, my old employer, was a distributor of mustangs for the US BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT. They had a sale. Carl and I went and looked at them. No way was I set up to meet the requirements for adopting a mustang from them. I checked the local listings and found a couple of mustangs for sale.

Apache came advertised as trail riding ready, great with kids, soft mouth, and more. Well, he is great with kids and he does have a soft mouth. But only a very experienced horse person could take him out on a trail. Even then, it would be quite a workout for both of them. Talk about stubborn, a lot of bad habits, and head strong...that is the real Apache.

Its been a long road with me learning to ride and trying to train Apache too. Carl has had his hands full training the both of us. He trains Apache through me, and I am not the fastest of learners for this type of stuff.

A year or so into working with Apache, I got an opportunity to acquire Mustang Sally.  So now I work with training both.

Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally is a seven year old mare and barely saddle broke. She is very gentle but, as I found out the hard way, is easily spooked. When spooked her MO is to get the hell out of Dodge. And, if anyone is on her back, to get them off ASAP.

The first time I put a saddle on her, she went ballistic! Now Apache had occasionally pitched a little with me when I first started doing saddle work with him, meaning I was up in the saddle. But this was hardcore bucking--all four feet in the air, back arched, etc. This should have been more of a warning to me.

I had been out in the pasture working with her several months before the main story here. (Yes, I will get to that. Bear with me a little longer.) I was doing saddle work with her. Something spooked her and she went ballistic on me--a not so experienced rider. Six months later I am pretty much mended but at age 60 I don't "bounce" so well. I took a horrendous spill: 13 stitches to my head and knocked my pelvis out of alignment. It was pretty painful. I don't heal as fast as I used to either.

So now our story starts...

The Wild Ride (a.k.a. Horsie Horrors)

Carl was working with Sally and I in the round pen. I was in the saddle. We were working on what Carl calls one of her "holes"--bad habits that we were trying to correct. In this case, she puts here head down toward the ground in protest when I ride her sometimes. He wanted me to speed her up, driving her forward.

I did this with some misgivings as I had only been very gently asking her to "go" up to this point. When I upped the ante and tried to speed her up--this is with foot signals--the wild ride started. I felt her energy come up and she took off. I tried to hind-quarter her. No go. Pulling her head around, there was a look of panic in her eyes that said, "No way." She quickly was up into a run and running perilously close to the fencing.

I panicked! I did what any self-respecting human would do and held on for dear life. PTSD symptoms from my spill several months reared their ugly head. There was no thinking here. It was primal survival mode as my flight-or-fight response kicked in. Although it was not registering on my consciousness at the time, Carl was yelling, "Get your legs out! Get your legs out!" I did just the opposite. I locked both legs down on her sides. Carl later pointed out that was the exact wrong thing to do. It only sent Sally further into her panic.

She almost drove my right leg into the fencing. I reached over and grabbed the fencing with both hands. Amazingly, she came out from under me. I hung fairly unhurt from the railing, thankful and my heart pounding. She quickly settled down, coming to a stop a few feet away.

I stood petting her for the next ten minutes or so helping both of us calm down while Carl and I talked about what had just occurred. I knew I was going to have to get back on her. But I also knew she could sense my fear. I had to try to get both of us back in a better place before I could remount her.

A few minutes later when I tried to get back in the saddle, she balked. We did a hind-quarter dance until she made a decision to stand still and let me remount.

Carl had for the umpteenth time talked to me about the importance of keeping my legs out and keeping my balance. You can't keep your balance with your legs clinching the horse. He said your job under those situations is just to ride. Don't try to hind-quarter her, stop her, or whatever. Just stay on and ride.

Pulling myself up into the saddle again, I asked her gently to go. Go she did, but not gently. She was off in a panicked run again. Carl was yelling again for me to get my legs out! I remember yelling back at him that I was really scared. In retrospect that is the most scared I have ever been. I was awash with Terror. But I heard him...and got my legs out anyway.

As my legs came out, I sat back in the saddle. Within less than ten steps Sally settled down into a slow walk and then stop.

Afterwards I worked her gently, asking her to go forward several times until both of us were calm and relaxed. It took about 20 minutes to get her to a good place so we could stop.

Carl said, "Dave (the master horseman Carl works with) always tells me to be a good horseman you have to be willing to give up your own preservation, your own safety." As soon as I had given these up and put my legs out, Sally had calmed down. Unclinching my legs from her had been an act of giving up my own preservation. It was counter intuitive, but it worked.

Later reflecting back on this incident and journaling on it, it occurred to me to use this story as my Theological Reflection that I was going to have to present to my theology class (Education for Ministry through the Episcopal church. I'm in my third year of the four year program) the following week. It occurred to me how this fit many of Jesus' teachings.

It also registered on me how this wild ride on Sally was a metaphor for my own life. Life is full of danger. You never know when a simple decision can lead to danger or opportunity. Since leaving the university especially, my life has been like the wild ride on Sally. I have taken some nasty tumbles, but I've had some real highs too. I love my life and live it with passion. God works through my life in so many ways. Most of which I don't understand but many I do.


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