Watching TV here recently, I noticed how many times I heard the phrase “horsepower”: Truck commercials. Boat commercials. Ads for riding lawn mowers and power tools. Even some household appliances.
From what I could glean, other than gettin’ you goin’ (and gettin’ you grinnin’), the horsepower they were describing didn’t seem to get me much more than a bigger price tag. And while I’ve been almost mindlessly obsessed with “horsepower” since my adolescence, as most boys tend to be, thinking back now, this isn’t the kind of horsepower that I first fell in love with.
There’s something truly magical about riding a horse. For those of us who have no aspirations to leave our current lives and take up with the circus, it seems to me that horseback riding is one of those rare experiences in life where, rather than clash with a wild animal, you collaborate with them instead. And, in looking to my right and left to see nothing but the couch on either side of me, I decided that a good ole’ fashioned “collaboration” might be just what I needed to help me in my never-ending journey to rediscover my inner “wild”.
I can remember the very first time I rode a horse, along with most every time I rode thereafter. The moments were powerful, earning them a permanent place in my memory, as well as my heart. I can remember the excitement and exhilaration, along with the reigns trembling in my hands as I came to grips with the fact that it was my responsibility, for both my well-being as well as the horse’s, that I keep my composure and guide this magnificent beast.
In many ways, including literal, riding a horse is a balancing act-- it takes a firm hand and a gentle spirit. And while you start off concerned about whether the horse is listening to you, you quickly find yourself listening to him as well. For some that harmony happens naturally, but, for most, it is honed slowly over time. My time here at the ranch has been enlightening and exhausting all at once, reminding me that often, the best memories in life are those you worked for the hardest.
I think it’s safe to say that few folks understand hard work more than the members of our military. For these men and women, “work” means warfare and human life hangs in the balance, meaning each day is driven, if not defined, by the duties that have been delegated. A mentality like that isn’t meant to be turned off easily, whether it be at the end of long tour or a long recovery from an injury sustained in the line of duty.
In actuality, there’s an incredible power in having purpose and as the folks of the Shangri-la Therapeutic Academy of Riding have discovered, sometimes learning how to help an animal find their way can help you find your own way in the process. Much like my first memories of riding, today is not a day I’ll soon forget. It’s reminded me that I stand to give a lot to those who have given so much, as well as pushed me to look a little further down the trail and take on the tough terrain I see off in the distance.
Pack Trip #1:
While my rediscovery of horses has taken me on quite a journey, both through my past as well as my potential, my experience has been fairly metaphorical thus far. I’ve often gotten caught up in a good cowboy classic and daydreamed about taking trips similar to theirs. I’ve even more often wondered if I was truly up to the task. It’s one thing to ride a horse and another thing entirely to do it all day, day after day, emerging from a tent each morning to cook your coffee over campfire.
Still, as we pressed further into the lush valleys and gorges that make up Big South Fork, I realized that while we weren’t truly lost, I was getting lost all the same.
It takes a lot of hard work to make a day like today possible, from the horses and mules, as well as the guides making sure we get a good meal. But, it takes a lot of hard work to make sure that a day like today is sustainable, as well.
A few years back, the folks at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency faced this very challenge. As traffic on trails increased, they watched as more and more of those trails made their way off in the tire treads and horseshoes of the users who were enjoying them. But, rather than give up, or put a gate up, these wilderness warriors rolled their sleeves up instead and set out to not only revitalize the trails, but maintain them for continued use.
To offset the many materials and many, many man hours, the agency introduced a High Impact Permit for folks enjoying certain trails be it by hooves, off-highway vehicles, or huffy mountain bikes alike. Considering how much I’ve taken with me physically, emotionally, and spiritually each trip I’ve made down a trail, I’m happy to do whatever I can to make sure there are still trails to enjoy for years to come.
Pack Trip #2:
Back at our camp in Big South Fork, the crew and I awoke our second morning to the soft sounds of the river beside us and the smell of breakfast over the fire. They were simple, but significant pleasures all at the same time and very soon had me eagerly looking forward to getting back in the saddle. And while the saddlebags would be a little leaner on the trip out, I knew I was packing out much more than I had come in with.
We find ourselves living these days in a high-powered world, where most of our briefcases and handbags are filled with at least one, if not two or three devices dedicated to delivering as much instant gratification as possible. It’s a potent drug, that kind of power, and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself burning through all the pleasures that come your way, constantly searching for that next “supped” up sensation. But if we’re being honest, the best adventures that await us are those within ourselves. There’s no greater wide open space than the fields and forests that stretch across your mind. It’s a country that remains uncharted, regardless of how many times you dive in and explore it. For some, the finest form of transportation through those internal and untamed spaces will be a fishing boat, or a tree stand, maybe even a rock face or a roaring river, but for me and this journey all it took was a whole lot of good ole’ fashioned horse power.