Get Off the F*ing Horse

Today, I had a random morning conversation with my friends at work. To set the stage for this random conversation, I need to tell you that we typically have random conversations. You know the ones, you can’t really remember how they started and the topic is never too serious. Our conversations of this nature usually end with the realization that is 8:25 and we have actual work to do.

Although no one says it, I think we do this quick little meet-up as a way of grounding ourselves before we get caught up in that rip current of a day of working in a school. This current catches you fast too. You are swimming along looking out at this wonderful horizon. Today is going to be a great day. You tell yourself. Then before you know it, you are swimming parallel to the shore, trying to stay afloat till 3:10. A harsh sounding assessment of working with elementary school children but there you go.  I’m telling you. Check with any adult who works in a school and I’m sure they share some part of my sentiment.

But for a few minutes each day we ground ourselves. This particular morning we were discussing my recent class trip to the circus the day before and they were all preparing for their turn at the circus that day. They asked what I thought of the experience. I rattled on about the cute fluffy white dogs doing tricks and one who did so in a dress. One woman asked, “Wasn’t there any horses?” No, I couldn’t remember any horses until I did recall that’s when I scurried off to the concession stand. By no means did I think, “Yikes, Horses! Run!” but something made me sit glued to my chair for the doggies but bolt for the horses. My friends starting discussing their love of all things equestrian and one said she would buy a horse if she had the money. Then, I spoke up. “I am not a fan of horses. I’m not a horse person.” I think the air shifted a bit in our breakfast club at that moment.

By the way, I don’t hate horses. They are fine and good. They are beautiful creatures. I’m just not that into them.  I think horses are like dolphins (Before the air shifts in your space, I do love dolphins. They are way cool. I would have stayed put if they popped up at the circus.) Everyone seems to talk happily about horses and dolphins. If you reminisce about your favorite animal as a kid, horses and dolphins are like “the top ten answers are on the board.”

I like horses at a distance. This realization came after over a decade of trips to a dude ranch as a sixth grade teacher. Each year, I got up on that horse and rode around with the students and a “handful” of teachers. A very small handful like if you could imagine a baby handful. But you know what wasn’t in short supply? Jittery, city kids! There was a small army of them!

Each year, I dutifully put on my plastic shower cap, helmet and saddled up. I waved goodbye to the chaperones standing along the fence. What follows is a decade-long blur of wiggly jiggly body parts both the horses and mine.  Everything flopping around while I was trying to save face in front of the jittery city youngins. Uncomfortable. The whole thing was uncomfortable from the start. To really make things extra awkward, I would inevitably get separated from my kids, the ones I spent the previous nine months getting to know. The ones I could tell to knock it off without any hesitation but nope I would get stuck right next to a kid I barely knew. Said kid would be the type who would panic at the first sign of Mr. Ed’s free will.

It was also an assault on all my senses. I can’t even describe how much of a horse’s anatomical business I had to endure, stuff just pouring or dropping out of the horse at a moment’s notice. And what could you do but wait till the horse in front of you finished up so you could move on till it happened again. This s@#t wasn’t like my experience with my Barbie horse from my childhood. Real horses smell rough and their bits and pieces dangle around. It’s too much.

It took me YEARS to realize…. I don’t have to do this! I can get off the f*ing horse! I can wave and smile from the fence like the best of them. And that’s what I did. Only for one year, before I got moved to another grade and didn’t go to the dude ranch anymore. Dang it! Why didn’t I come to this epiphany sooner? But alas, at least I did at some point.

But when I reflected on this with my breakfast club, I realized I learned a lot about myself from those experiences and it held deeper meaning for me today. I can say with confidence that no former student remembers me riding the horse from those dude ranch days. Why would they? There was swimming, BBQs, paddle boarding etc. Perhaps, they may recall me in some other way but not for my horseback riding. There is no twenty something out there thinking, “OMG, Ms. Gilligan was so cool! I remember how she rode that horse! What a great teacher!” But here I am remembering the praying that I did on those hot or rainy or chilly days, praying God would get the child to simmer down, praying my horse wouldn’t go buck wild, praying for the end of the ride. When all along, I could have just got off the f*ing horse!

What keeps us attached to unpleasant things? Responsibility? Guilt? What stops us from making small shifts in our lives to let in more happiness? I didn’t run from the dude ranch. I didn’t throw up my hands and say I quit. I just simply, got off the f*ing horse. Small lateral changes in your life can make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be a big drastic change. If you are unhappy in your present situation, perhaps at work or home, then maybe, looking at it in a different way could help. Is there something you are persisting in doing or thinking that you can release? What is “f*ing horse” that are you riding?

All my students ever needed and all your friends and family ever need is for you to be “present.” This can be difficult especially when the rip current is strong and you don’t see the lifelines. But if a small shift in thinking or doing can align with your goals, do it. Don’t wait till too long to start that shift. Don’t stay rooted too long. Get off the f*ing horse.


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