lessons from the (jockey) saddle

[note: commence reading with some sort of a country-drawl or twang for full-effect]

i grew up riding horses from about the age of 7, mostly because it meant me getting to tag along with my uncle who, til’ this day, i adore beyond all words.  i retired my buckle and sash (yes, you are in the presence of a real-life rodeo princess) and while i no longer “chase cans” as my uncle lovingly referred to my barrel racing days in high school rodeo, something about it changed me and made me who i am. so of course any chance i get to ride, i take it. every so often i head to my friend’s ranch, who is a quarter-horse trainer, and i spend the morning galloping with the yearlings. being a creative person, it is both a blessing and a curse that my mind wanders so, but I wanted to share with you a few epiphanies i had from the saddle (even in spite of my sore hiney i might add):

do what you love
of course i love fitness, nutrition, fitlosophy…and everything that revolves around that world and i’m blessed to do that every day. and aside from that i would say i have very few things in this world that i love more than that.  of course there are the little things in life that bring a smile to my face: reading a good book, watching a good chick flick with golden spoon, a good glass of wine over dinner, watching a sunset – the list goes on. however riding horses is one thing that makes me truly feel alive – one thing that makes me happy and giddy like a 7 year old girl again and i just realized this only about a year ago. i challenge you to find out what that is in your life and here’s why: when you’re truly happy, the way you look at life completely changes and the importance you put on the trivial things seems to shift. always be striving to be your best self, but keep it all in perspective with your happiness: being a size 4 or losing 10lbs is not that important if it means sacrificing your happiness. and what i’ve found: when i do what i love, i’m happy.  and when i’m happy those little things just don’t seem to matter quite as much. my challenge for you: what do you love?  what could you do for hours on end? find it and do it.

keep good company
when i gallop with the yearlings (or “babies” as they call them at the ranch), i ride a “pony” horse.  which, i might add was a bit of an insult at first because where I come from, pony horses are meant for 4-year-old kids at a carnival with sticky hands – not me.  in the racehorse world however, pony horses are the horses that you see next to the race horse on the track, with the rider in the western saddle, that will hold onto the racehorse as they warm-up around the track before they run. so when they work the yearlings in the mornings they work 2 at a time, along with a pony horse for “company”.  the whole purpose is to train the horses to run very close together, get used to other horses, and of course to see how they work with a  little competition right next to them. so i’m riding along and my conversations with the jockeys (or “gallop boys”, as they’re called) are fairly entertaining given both of our feeble attempts to speak spanglish to each other, but we manage. my whole purpose for being there is to ride as close as possible to the inside horse and when they act up, keep them running straight and get them back on track.  this reminded me of the importance of having good company in life, and specifically in our ongoing journey to live healthy.  we all have good days and bad. there are days when we rare up and run sideways, and others where our heads down, we’re focused, and our eyes are on the finish line. but without good company in life, often times we run off-course. take note and make sure you have your company by your side to hold you accountable throughout life.

sometimes you have to hold on for dear life
so we’re galloping along and one of the gallop boys makes a  kissing sound that my horse eddie (which i lovingly call the no-name horse), knows to mean: “go”!  so rather than the gallop boy’s yearling taking the cue, off I go on eddie!  he loves to run and is very heavy in the mouth so with both arms pulling on the reins, i’m trying with all my might to slow him up.  the whole idea is for me to be riding next to the yearlings and away i go down the lane and the other horses didn’t keep up.  (a bit of a rush, i might add.)  there’s a big difference between riding western on my mellow horse skeeter (rest his little old soul) and running against race horses and just wondering if at any moment one of these (very) green horses is going to act up, make my horse mad, buck, and *bloop* off goes ang into the weeds.  but that’s life.  sometimes it’s bumpy, unexpected, completely out of your control and rather than pulling back on the reins and fighting tooth and nail, sometimes we just have to grab the saddle horn and hold on for the ride.  it slows down eventually, things make sense at some point, and often times you look back (like i did on my little mini-race) and see that it made you a better person in the process.  of course sometimes we have no clue where we’re going to end up, but then again – that’s all just a part of the ride.

be bold: try something new
i’ve never have rode on a jockey saddle – and never really wanted to. let’s put this in perspective: it weighs 2lbs and frankly i’d prefer to have my 20lb leather behemoth strapping me to my horse than a flap that weighs less than my wranglers.  not to mention the fact that a) the stirrups are super short and really thin metal bars versus nice clunky leather & wood and b) hello – nothing to hold on to!  however after riding for a few hours, it was suggested that i at least try to see what it would be like to ride in the jockey saddle.  so with 6 macho-camacho guys watching me and not wanting to look like a pansy, of course i said yes but my heart was racing. problem #1: how to get on.  in my saddle, i put a foot in and heave-ho:  i’m up.  not so on jockey saddles – you have to have someone take your foot and flip you over and i must say i may have had the most ungraceful mount of the century.  i slip my boots in the stirrups with my knee-caps pointed to the sky and i’m presented with problem #2: my “handle”: there isn’t one.  no saddle horn – just the reins which are much shorter than i’m used riding with.  ok first, walk the horse. check – i got this.  trot: oy.. LiTtLe….bUmPy… but i started getting the hang of the rhythm of the horse although i completely felt like a duck out of water.  and even though i was a bit nervous, i decided to gallop eddie down the lane once just to see what it felt like to be a jockey, knees up, butt in the air, with my head in the wind.  invigorating. something that i never tried, and frankly never wanted to because i was scared.  and that something is now my new obsession.   a complete new experience that i’ve been missing out on because of my own fears or misconceptions about my own capabilities. what are you missing out on because of your own self-limiting beliefs?  push yourself and be bold.  think of one thing you’ve always wanted to try but never have – then go do it.

so thighs burning all the way back on the home stretch with the wind in my hair, all i kept thinking was how full my life can be if i just change up my saddle every now and then.  approach life with vigor – don’t be afraid of the outcome, but excited at the possibilities that lie ahead!

go get ‘em cowboy…giddy up!
angelina (my cowgirl persona)

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