Monday, January 12, 2009


My first income earning job off the farm was at a neighboring dairy making 60 cents an hour. It stunk. Figuratively and literally. Then I tried working in town when I was a teenager. First at the grocery store stocking shelves. That was the pits. Then at Western Auto assembling bicycles and doing other stuff. That too was the pits. Then I was told about a job at Wood Acres. I had never so much as heard about Wood Acres.

Mr. Wood had a business that catered to folks staying at the Grand Hotel. It was quite an interesting and diversified operation with a skeet range, trap range, riding stables, licensed quail hunting preserve, and brackish water fishing excursions. It paid 40 dollars a week plus any tips I made and I did everything from guiding to shoveling horse manure. It was the perfect job. I loved it.

One Saturday morning I got a call from the hotel. A lady that called herself Rusty. She told me that she had had an incident with a horse when she was young, one of those horse runs to the barn and through the door stories, and now she wanted to overcome her fear of horses. I told her to come on out and we’d see what we could do about it. I had taught a lot of people, kids and adults to ride, but I had never helped anyone overcome a fear like this.

Most of the horses were older and gentle animals. They still had plenty of spunk in them but they were well accustomed to the kind of work they did. Prince was a very trustworthy Appaloosa. I had him ready by the time Rusty got there.

I introduced her to the horse and let the two of them get acquainted. Prince was used to nervous people and had seen a lot of them in the course of his life at Wood Acres. After a few minutes of getting comfortable with the horse I gave Rusty a foot-up. She was sitting on a horse for the first time since she was a little girl.

The next part of the journey, now that she was sitting on a horse, was into the riding ring. I took Prince by the reigns and led him around the ring a few times. Rusty seemed comfortable enough and was beginning to enjoy the experience. I handed her the reins, put a hand on the bit in Prince’s mouth, and continued walking around the ring. We spent about an hour working the ring. It didn’t take long until I was standing in the center of the ring watching Rusty and Prince traveling around the circle. Then, while Rusty took a little break from the saddle, I got a big Palomino named George ready for a ride.

It normally took about an hour from the time we left the barn until we returned. This was a very casual ride. On other occasions there were parts of the ride where I’d trot or canter. But not today so the ride took a little longer. This was a ride tailor made for this lady that had found the courage to face and overcome a fear in her life.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. Thinking back now I think it’s probably one of the most notable things I’ve ever done. Me barely more than a boy helping a grown woman overcome a fear that she’d lived with since she was a little girl. I have no idea what became of Rusty. The limo from the hotel came and picked her up and that was the last time I saw her.

Fear is something that comes dressed in assorted clothing. It can be the fruit of some traumatic experience, something external that leaves an internal impression. That kind of fear is bad enough.

More insidiously, and I think even worse, is the type of fear that has nothing to do with traumatic experience. It’s the kind of fear that breeds internally in our being, develops to control us, then rules our lives with an iron fist. It comes from living too long corralled within the nice little patterns and expectations of comfortable social acceptability where life is lived on paved and well lighted streets. It’s the kind of fear that confines us without using fences or walls. It doesn't need them. It has us hamstrung and afraid to wander, afraid to venture, afraid to adventure.

It won’t go away on its own. Somehow, somewhere. If we are going to overcome it we’ve got to ride another horse, wander deeper into the woods, reblaze some abandoned trails.