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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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...
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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'
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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