Throughout this week I've received some amazing emails from friends and family with words of encouragement, as they knew how much I was struggling with this riding holiday. An email from my friend Jimmy really stuck with me because oddly, even though his experience was shockingly painful to read, something specific that he shared resonated with me.
Jimmy's story was regarding his experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy during a period they referred to as "Hell Week", an event spanning several days that marks the culmination of a cadet's first year of training. Completing or better yet, surviving, this event means acceptance into the upper ranks and, finally, some time to rest.
Jimmy's story as follows:
"I remember waking up on the second day of Hell Week. It was very early. Maybe 6 a.m. I was still mentally and physically exhausted from the day before when I heard someone's boot rattle my door hinges. I thought a SWAT team was coming in. "Pants on! Doors open!" I was quick, but too quick, to get out there. My roommate and I were the first pair in the hall. There were forty upperclassmen waiting for us, and we received everyone's attention until my classmates joined. I remember dropping down to do pushups. My body was so incredibly sore. I felt broken. I felt like I needed to lay in bed for days before this kind of pain would go away. Every movement was tender, but there was no time for tenderness. "DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP!" They didn't tell us how many we were going to do. It was just assumed that we would proceed until the earth fell into the sun. I was in muscle failure within two minutes of stepping into the hall and I still had three days to go—at least, that's what I thought. Hell Week was designed to take away a person's sense of time and hope. Our watches were taken from us and the only person we could talk to at night, in hushed whispers, was our roommate."
I know his story seems dramatic compared to a horseback riding trip, but strangely, I related to his emotions. What I admired most about this story was his ability to understand what he was experiencing in that very moment and to understand how that training has profoundly impacted his life. It has given him the knowledge of honor and loyalty and the kind of camaraderie that spans years, continents and generations. I always say something similar about horseback riding. Hope definitely isn't gone; if anything it's more prominent. But time easily slips away, and it's not often that any one thing we do has the ability to take time and erase it. For me, this week it went both ways: Some days seemed endless but others couldn't last long enough. Today, the last day of the ride, was one of those days.
I made it to the end. Taking a break on day nine was one of the best things I could have done for myself, because today I was well-rested, stronger and had such an enjoyable final ride. It was one of my favorite days in terms of landscape as we moved through mountains, herds of cattle, wild horses and black vultures flying above. We were experiencing nature at its undisturbed core. It was perfect.
Today's picture is of me giving Cisco a hug. This week taught me a lot, not only about being a better rider through our guide, Maria, and the other riders but about myself. Most importantly though, I learned that the best teacher I had was Cisco. He was patient with me and gave me the time to figure things out. If you've ridden before you know just how important it is to have a gentle and understanding horse, especially if you're a beginner.
As I crossed through the gate into the stables during the final minutes of the ride, I teared up, not believing that I actually finished it sitting in the saddle. I was sad that it was the last day but astonished about what I had just accomplished. For me, I know there will be more riding in the future and this trip will always stay with me as I continue on this adventure I started so many years ago.
Signing Off Crossing the Finish Line,
"Life is short. Hug your horse." ~ Quote from my friend Todd.