When I was nine years old, I got my first pony. She was a teenaged arab/quarterhorse cross who knew two speeds, fast and faster. I was a dedicated and committed young rider who didn't balk at hard work. I was thrilled beyond measure to get to be responsible for her care. Even at nine, I think I knew the weight of that responsibility. I was so excited and proud as we pulled up the farm's gravel drive to pick her up and bring her home.
The pony greeted me from her stall with tiny little ears pricked in my direction. Her rich red bay coat was fluffed to the perfection of every little girl's dream. Her name was Sweet Pea, which I would soon find to be a living and breathing juxtaposition. But in that first moment, there in the warm barn, my dreams came true…. And thank God I was committed.
For the next three hours, I stood to the side of a rusty blue horse trailer while the previous owner attempted to load the little mare. Not knowing how to help and a bit intimidated, I stood there in the snow until the bottoms of my pants froze to the ground. Then, when I could no longer feel my fingers or toes, I kept standing there. Well beyond when I probably should have warmed myself in the heat of the truck's cab, I remained. I was unwilling to rid myself of my discomfort, perhaps for fear of losing the one thing I wanted more than anything—that naughty pony who would not get on the trailer! This was my first lesson in perseverance.
That first afternoon should have been a sign, a warning, a foretelling of the difficulties that were to come with the little mare, but my parents and I were too green to realize it. And so, when eventually she loaded onto the trailer, she was mine. Little did I know what we were in for. But, as they say, ignorance is bliss, and looking back now, I'm glad for that. Sweet Pea and I had quite the journey, filled with peaks and valleys. She ultimately turned out to be a blast of a pony, and I a solid confident rider but it didn't start out that way.
She was turned out in a large pasture with other horses for the first two months. Everyday I showed up to care for her, and every day she ran from me skillfully slinking behind and between her herd mates to avoid capture- to avoid me. I was utterly heartbroken, and every single day I cried. When eventually I could catch her, she would pull and break loose when tied; when finally she would stand tied, I began to ride. When I rode she would charge around, ignoring every single signal I made, her answer to everything was to increase speed. This was very intimidating for me, but I didn't stop riding her, and I didn't stop learning to communicate better with her with help from a great instructor. Eventually, we gained some control on the flat. When we introduced jumping Sweet Pea would overjump every single jump, rocketing over every fence like a loaded missle. I specifically recall falling off three times in one day over the same little cross rail. But I was determined, and I didn't give up. Had I taken home a milder pony, a more fitting pony for my age, and skill, I might have avoided a lot of tears, embarrassment, frustration, bumps, and bruises. But I also would have missed out on some important and defining moments that remain a part of who I am, both in the saddle and out still to this day, over two decades later.
Thank God for hard horses like Sweet Pea.
They show us the gap between who we say we are and who we really are. They don't give an inch if it's not deserved. They force us to think outside the box and learn to be curious about both horse and human behavior. They show us the importance of clear and direct communication. They keep us humble and laughing at ourselves.
It is, of course, the difficult horses that seem best able to look straight into our souls and pick apart our weaknesses—forcing the dark corners of us into the light. They are the ones that push us to become better horsemen and, in turn, better people. Often, these are the horses that define us.
We all experience difficulties.
Some are more pronounced than others. Some cut deeper and hurt more. Some seem insurmountable. You may choose to ignore its existence, pushing it down and powering through. That is, after all, the climate of the world we live in.
But what if, like hard horses, adversity begs us to persevere? What if we could shift the way we look at our difficult situation to see it as something that is growing us, challenging us, changing us, and asking us to become a better version of ourselves? What would happen if we sat in our moments of adversity in the same way we sit on difficult horses, daily, repetitively, patiently. Without distraction. Knowing that there are no shortcuts. Just riding on.
Keep going when things are hard.
It's ok to cry, but it isn't ok to give up.
Never compare your journey to anyone else's.
Short-term struggle often leads to long-term success; let yourself be shaped by hard things.
Always get right back on. The longer it takes to start again, the harder it will be.
Grit and dedication are priceless.
Fast is fun- not always practical, but fun- sometimes it's ok to have fun and forget about the details.
If it's good, it probably won't be easy; if it's easy, it probably won't be all that good.
Know when your beat, and don't be ashamed to ask for help
Responsibilities don't take sick days
There are no shortcuts