On Friday, driving between meetings, I listened to Science Friday on NPR. The interviewee was quadriplegic and the recipient of new technology that permits human thought to direct a robotic arm. This individual had been damaged by a stroke rather than an accident, but the horror of her situation struck me in a manner that such stories usually don’t.
I can’t say exactly why. It’s not as though I don’t know the risk I take every time I ride. All horsemen do. Endurance riders, especially, consider the danger of our regular pursuit in which we set out at speed, for many miles, over unfamiliar territory — often alone.
I pondered this yesterday, astride Acey as she cantered along a dirt path 10 miles from anywhere another human was likely to be that day, or perhaps for many days. If I fell and was badly injured, I’d face a hell of a challenge getting to help. That’s assuming I was able to help myself at all. But I went anyway. Again. I do it all the time.
To get where we want to go — today, and in the larger scheme — we must have faith. Faith in our riding, fallible though it is, to keep us astride a stumble or spook. Faith in our training to stop or turn or rush our horses as needed to avoid unexpected hazards. Faith in our and our horses’ good sense, good instinct, good decisions. Faith in the people we told we’d be back by 4:00. We must have faith.
We must have hope. Hope that today will not be the day of the freak accident, because they do happen. Hope that if it doesn happen, it won’t be too bad. Hope that our horses’ minds and ours align today, so we can hear each other. We must have hope.
We must have love. This is the Do it Anyway. Do it when we are tired. Do it when we are afraid. Do it because we know there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, which we may or may not ever reach. Do it because we aren’t content until it’s done. Do it because the land is rough and the wind is wild and the sky is endless clouds and blue and the mane is soft and tangled ’round our reins and the hoofbeats and the heartbeats swell and we wouldn’t take away the danger if we could, because this is what we love. This is what we do. We must have love.
I believe it was the Corinthians who first read the words: And now these three remain ~ Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.
I’m reading a book called The Flinch. It’s author, Julian Smith, has made electronic copies available for free through Amazon. Although Smith’s writing is decent and his premise interesting, I’m not sure it takes 855 kilobytes to get his point across. Pick up the book if you like, or content yourself with this synopsis:
We humans miss out on a broad range of beneficial experiences due to fear of events that haven’t happened yet. The flinch is our natural reaction to pain; it is supposed to follow the unpleasant event. Instead, we tend to flinch in anticipation of discomfort, and steer clear of perceived danger that, if faced, would promote personal growth.
In order to become tougher, better individuals, we ought to acquire a boxer’s ability to override the flinch reflex. This is accomplished through repeated, intentional exposure to uncomfortable experiences (from cold showers to asking for raises), through which we learn that most of what we fear isn’t dangerous at all — and on the rare occasions when we actually are damaged, we bear our scars as badges of honor, as proof of our ability to survive.
Do you recognize the flinch?
I suspect I am not the only equestrian who faces it before every ride. The twinge of reluctance. The search for an excuse. The reason not to go today. Because once I boot up, saddle up, mount up…anything could happen. I might get hurt.
The flinch. Every time, I push through it in order to get out the door. And every time, once the horse is live in my hands, the fear evaporates. The flinch is behind me, and the experience itself isn’t painful after all. This is what I know, what I love, what I do. It is familiar and easy and fun. It sets me free. It makes me better.
But to get there — get better — I have to grit through the flinch. And really, it’s not so bad.
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