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The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead

By Betsy Kelleher

     First, I want to thank those who sent me a contest entry in response to my last two columns. I appreciate the efforts and encouragement from those who took the time to respond. I received some good ideas and I am still mulling things over. I may try several of the ideas I received. I’m waiting for warmer weather, however, hoping that will inspire me to get back into the saddle. 

     And the winner of my contest is…Clara Borntreger from Michigan, who sent me three separate entries! Clara, my book, MARES! (ya gotta love em) is on its way to you, and I hope you enjoy the stories, written by many different horse owners including myself! Best wishes to you and your mare, Flicka, in your 4-H endeavors this summer! 

     While waiting for contest entries, I returned to the ACTHA website’s listing of obstacles for more ideas. I know you’ve heard this story before. Before my first ACTHA ride on Lady, I looked at that list of possible obstacles and decided that dragging a log was one task that she wasn’t ready for. Lady learned this new skill quite easily and I was amazed how different she seemed during the actual ride. She had become a thinking horse, more willing to listen and try, quite a change from her usual quick-minded reactive behavior!

     And now I’m collecting empty milk jugs so I can work on another obstacle from the ACTHA website. Can you imagine asking a horse to walk into a makeshift box full of empty milk jugs? I see that as a definite challenge! But I can already visualize a lesson plan for the task.

     Perhaps I need a lesson plan for the challenge ahead of me as I evaluate where I now am in life. I’m reminded of something Sally Swift said during her clinics, to “center…and grow.” If you don’t know who Sally Swift was, she started the Centered Riding movement. I share quite a bit about that phrase and Sally Swift in my first book, Sometimes a Woman Needs a Horse. Centering is one of the four original basics of Centered Riding. A rider is asked to imagine a spot deep within the lower torso as the center of energy, control and balance, and to operate from that center. “In my own life, too, I need this frequent reminder, to center and grow—at the beginning of each day, after an upsetting incident, or whenever I sense a change in direction.”

     I am currently contemplating my life’s direction, after losing a son on February 24th. The memorial service on March 9th was a challenge as I tried to grasp the reality of the loss, yet I felt inspired by my son’s life. He had planned the service in advance, to be a witness of his faith. And now, I am trying to center on the message of Easter, on the Christ who died for me, and to grow from all I have experienced these past weeks. 

     Let me share how certain things from my experience with horses also has had a helpful influence on my grieving process. Someone posted on Facebook that I should take a deep breath. Haven’t we all heard that before? But wonder of wonders, I found that taking a deep breath actually helped me! Ever try to cry and take a deep breath at the same time? I don’t believe it’s possible. I’m also reminded of something Sam (Tom Hanks) said in Sleepless in Seattle, about getting up in the morning and taking another deep breath, then another and another, until he didn’t have to remind himself anymore to do that. I guess one assumes that the job gets easier with time. I have recently noticed that the heavy ache in my own heart is already less than it was a few weeks ago.

     I will certainly miss his phone calls, his texts, his visits, and those cards and flowers that came on certain days. But I realize it’s more difficult to cope with the loss of a spouse than that of a son who no longer lives in my home, and I think of my daughter-in-law often. I still have a message on my cell phone from Bob’s call the night before Valentine’s Day, and I don’t plan to delete it yet. I may not listen to it, but just knowing it is there somehow feels comforting. I’ve also chosen not to delete several precious texts.

     We’re told that horses live in the moment and we should too. I decided after the memorial service that I would not live in the past, nor dwell on the sadness of loss. I am determined to move on. I think I’m past the worst phase of grief, although I know that now and then something will touch deep and the tears will flow. I want to honor the son I have lost on Earth, to bless Bob’s memory by living as he did, making the most of every day and every opportunity.

     He faced the struggle with terminal cancer and its pain and complications for more than four years. During that time, he enjoyed family trips and vacations and accompanied one of his daughters on a mission trip to Nicaragua (about six months before he died). Bob walked through the valley knowing he was not alone. He learned, he said, that he could trust God in whatever circumstance he found himself. He learned to make his days count. I have peace in my heart that Bob is now free of pain, safely in Paradise in that special mansion that God prepared for him. As one Facebook post eloquently described, he is now basking in the light of God’s love. That was such a helpful thought, Lynn Baber! Thank you!

     Now I want to live my own life to the fullest, to use this gift that God has given me with wisdom and love. It’s almost like New Years Day all over again, a new beginning, a new road ahead full of challenges. This challenge may not be what I would choose. I remember my Grandpa’s words, “God has always taken care of us. We’ll take the bad with the good.” Lamentations 3:22-23 assures us, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” And God’s compassionate grace has definitely helped me through this situation!

     I wonder if Lady will sense my new attitude as I work with her again. Horses do have a special awareness of our feelings, you know. Perhaps Lady and I will find a deeper bond than before as I renew our relationship with a greater realization of life’s precious meaning. 

(Originally published in the Aptil 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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