When I was a child, after much begging and pleading, I became the proud owner of a coal black Shetland pony. From a distance, he looked darling – all woolly and cuddly – and seemed worthy of the name he came with when we bought him, Black Beauty.
He was all sweetness and light until you put a saddle on him. That’s when I learned he really should have been named Black Beastie. His favorite trick was to stand docilely until you were firmly seated in the saddle. Then he took the bit in his mouth and raced towards the nearest tree where he headed for a low hanging branch and scraped you off like an unwanted barnacle.
This first time it happened I was scared to death. He was the first pony I had ever owned and I hadn’t had any riding lessons so I didn’t know what to do other than hang on for dear life. When I hit the ground after having been struck in the stomach by the branch, not only was I in pain and gasping for breath, I was pretty sure I was never getting on that pony again.
To hell with riding. To hell with horses. To hell with my dreams of becoming an accomplished horsewoman.
No way was I getting back in that saddle again.
I was embarrassed. Other more experienced riders had seen me take that fall. I was hurt. My stomach was throbbing. I was afraid of that little black pony.
To this day, I don’t know what made me put my foot in the stirrup and get back on. Perhaps it was the mocking “I got you!” look in his eye that called to my competitive spirit. I don’t know. All I know is that even though I was shaking with fear, I got back in the saddle – somehow.
Black Beauty and I repeated the “under the tree” exercise several more times. It was terrifying. It hurt. I was covered in dirt and my skin was scratched. But I finally figured out what I needed to do in order to keep the bit out of his mouth and prevent him from racing towards the nearest tree. Once I did, he behaved like a perfect gentleman. When we locked eyes again, his look could only be described as disappointed. His fun was over and mine had just begun.
I often think of what might have happened if I hadn’t gotten back on that little pony. If I had let embarrassment rule my actions. If I had given into the pain. If I had let my fear take over.
I would have missed hours of fun riding with my friends. I would have never gotten my next horse (a gentle, sweet-tempered mare). I would have never experienced camping in the mountains with my horse, picking up a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s drive-through on horseback, or swimming with my horse in Puget Sound.
I would have missed those things I could imagine and the even greater things awaiting me that I could never have imagined.
That is what happens when you give up on your dreams.
We all have bumps and spills as we pursue our dreams. Things that hurt us, knock the wind out of us, or embarrass us to the core as we fumble our way imperfectly forward. We encounter things that cause us to doubt the wisdom of our desires. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get back in the saddle again.
If you want to experience all that you can imagine (and all that you can’t), you simply must put your foot in the stirrup.
In many ways, this post is my saddle. For some months now, I haven’t known what to write or what I wanted to share. The ideas didn’t come. The words didn’t appear. So, I stopped writing altogether.
I was close to giving up on my dream of writing.
But I sat down in front of the computer one more time. And, what happened? Words appeared.
Thank you, Black Beauty.
My advice? Don’t give up on yourself and your dreams.
If you get hit in the gut by a low-hanging branch, dust yourself off and take a deep breath. Ask your fear and pain to step aside. Tell them you’ve got places to go. Put your foot back in the stirrup. From there, it’s a short swing into the saddle and you’ll be off again – headed towards your dreams.