It was bright and early on any Saturday morning when I was six or seven years old, down by the barn on our country property. I was skinny and small, maybe 60 lbs, not sure. Fresh out of bed and still not really awake. Wishing I could be listening to my Saturday morning radio shows up at the house. Strawberry blonde hair that curled up with summer perspiration and blue eyes, unrevealing as yet of the budding determination behind them.
I knew it was time to ride Thunder again, probably get thrown off and lucky, I hoped, to land safely without fracturing my neck. Mom was sure I would be injured. Dad was fearless, and I was caught in the middle somewhere. I knew the perils of horseback riding, had been taking formal riding lessons for weeks, so I also knew that, in spite of my size, I would rather be riding any full grown normal horse (we had two of those in the barn, just 3 stalls down from Thunder…and I loved them both) using an English saddle than to have to get on the back of that black devil pony from hell and that damn western saddle.
If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times, as I picked myself up off the ground and put my hat back on, trying not to cry after being tossed like a pillow over the top of Thunder’s head, “Jo, show that pony who’s boss! Get up on him and try again! Come on, hurry up. He’ll warm up to you.” But actually he never did. I learned to ride him, but with great respect and constant trepidation for what might transpire at any given moment, if he decided he didn’t like some bird or some weed or some sneeze…he was unpredictable. He had a consistent wild look in his eye, because he was nuts. Like a cowboy’s bad dream. Truly demented.
Those mornings eventually taught me more than how to get Thunder under control, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. I now know, however, from that time on, confronted with any problem whatsoever, I choose to walk through it over the hot coals rather than around it. The lesson was learned, more out of wanting to NOT look like a chicken than from wanting to be brave. I would rather hunker down and weather the storm than sneak around it going sideways to avoid the issue. But honestly, sometimes walking through the center to the eye of the tornado and out the other side is nothing but crazy and I am just saying that you can get tossed around and badly bruised every once in a while with your perhaps foolhardy bravery. It does not work 100% of the time, to look a situation right in the eye and decide to challenge it. Violent situations with people and guns or wild animals are a couple situations that are best not confronted armed only with your steely-eyed determination and your slightly red hair.
But down through the chapters of your life, as you face adversity and all the problems that life brings, if you are engaged and truly living it, you must take it all on like a champ. You learn what to accept as a challenge, what to avoid at all costs, what to stand and fight for and what to flee. Which battles are worth engaging and which to ignore. You learn what can be negotiated and what cannot. You learn that some people are reasonable, and can be “talked off the cliff” and some will never know what reason is. You learn that sweating all the small stuff will just wear you out over time and that you need to save your energy and your big guns for the life-changing battles.
Yes, Thunder has become a symbol for me. Black as night, hoofs like thunder, the maniacal look in his eyes and the ability to run like the wind…you have to give that kind of life-form a lot of respect.