Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On Risk and Responsibility

Today I read a post published by fellow blogger, Hannah.  Hannah is a former eventer and endurance rider who currently blogs about hiking with her dogs at Bully and Blaze.  (Hannah's blog about her endurance adventures is well worth the read even though it is no longer active.  In fact, it was one of the handful of blogs that convinced me endurance was a worthwhile endeavor.)

I'm not sure I can really categorize Hannah's post, except to say that she continues her unique and thoughtful perspective after finding out the result of a search and rescue operation at a location she was hiking at.  Her post reminded me that it is important to acknowledge the risk I take every time I get on my horse and the even bigger risk I take when I ride him on a trail like the Devil's Backbone at Graves Mountain or go on an endurance ride.

I think it is too easy for horse riders to think their risk is mitigated because they wear a helmet or a safety vest.  It isn't.  At all.  It only takes a single missed step on a slick trail on the side of a mountain for death to come on swift wings.  No helmet can save you from the weight of a 1500 pound horse falling on you and tumbling down a mountain.  And for those of us with kids (or spouses or plain old people who love us deeply), the question becomes, "Is the risk worth it?"  How will my husband explain my death to my daughter if that fateful event occurs?  How will she view me as a mother if I don't live to see her college graduation because I died in a horse riding accident?  And God help me, what will her father feed her if I'm not around to cook?

The truth is that I don't know the answers to those questions (except the last one - and the answer is pizza and cookies and hot dogs) and a part of my brain is constantly engaged in thinking about them.  From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I began developing milestones for my continued existence.  First, it was to live long enough so that my unborn baby could survive on her own if I died.  Then, it was to live long enough to give birth.  Then, it was to live long enough to breast feed my daughter for six months.  Then it was to see her walk.  To hear her talk.  Now, it is to get her started in her early education years, so she isn't damaged by the public school system, or at least gains the skills to take on a world that is becoming a stranger to me.  But what about her first date?  Her first break-up?  Her first true failure?  College?  Marriage?  A baby?

And what is my responsibility to keep myself alive for all of those things?  Do I shut myself away from anything too risky so that I'm guaranteed a death from natural causes?  (It would be so much simpler if I could just live forever!)  Or do I live life to the fullest to show my daughter that there is something to be gained from overcoming adversity and even fear?

I think those are questions we all have to answer for ourselves.  And it is worth thinking deeply about those questions and coming to a decision.  I have chosen to continue to ride my horse.  In fact, I've chosen to put my daughter on that horse to ride too (within some pretty specific and careful parameters, though).  Nimo is not a beginner horse.  He is a lovely animal with a beautiful personality who is smart and funny and gorgeous and worth every moment I spend with him.  But he is not bombproof or even comfortable to ride.  He can be spooky and unpredictable.  He is awfully tall and a fall at speed is nothing to joke about.  I still have what may be permanent nerve damage from a fall from him about a year ago.  It's not a big deal and doesn't bother me, but there is a small spot on my lower back that doesn't feel right anymore and it is a constant reminder of the risk I take when I ride.

But here's what I think about risk.  If you don't engage in some kind of risk-taking physical behavior on a regular basis, you may very well not engage in risk-taking behavior in other parts of your life either.  You may not take on the risk of a relationship or a new job or a business venture.  I'm not talking about riding a motorcycle without a helmet on the Beltway here, but I think we are biologically programmed to need a certain amount of risk in our lives.  If we never have to overcome fear or survive a challenge, I wonder how it affects the way we face all of our decisions and the impact it has on our happiness.

There may be safer things for me to do, but none of them carry the sheer joy that being with horses does.  None of them challenge me in the same way and none of them fulfill me or make my heart feel as full.  And the legacy that I want to leave my daughter is for her to know that taking a risk for something she loves is worth it.  I want her to know that it is OK to be absolutely terrified and that going forward may be the very thing that she needs to do.  But I also want her to know that it is OK to listen to her inner self, that is OK to fail, that it is OK to go in a new direction, and that it is OK to walk away from something that doesn't feel right.  And even that it is OK to not know the answer or to change her stubborn, stubborn mind.

It's a tall order to be a parent these days.  Somehow, we have to find a way to be true to ourselves and be true to our children.  Luckily, I think there isn't necessarily a right answer for all of us; rather, there are possibilities and choices.  And finding our way begins with acknowledging the difficulty of the path that we must take.

So tonight, I'm going to go hug my daughter and be thankful for every last moment I've had with her so far.  And tomorrow, I'm going to ride my horse and tell my daughter how wonderful it was.  And when she asks me if she can ride too, I'm going to say yes.


  1. Love your post. Love love love. I really like the point you made about how taking risks in one area of your life makes it easier to grow by taking risks and stepping out in other areas. I know that after I got off the Colorado River in March of 2015 after rowing the length of the Grand Canyon, I felt like I could do ANYTHING. Too bad that feeling eventually expired, like milk on the shelf though. One thing I have often considered is this: how many people die of a broken spirit by sitting at home, safe on the couch, binge watching Netflix while their bodies rot into an early grave? "NOT" taking risks in my opinion can be as dangerous to our physical and mental well-being as risk taking. As with every single darn thing, the key is balance.

    1. Thanks, Jo:) I love your point about the how the feeling that you could do anything expired. We have to keep taking risks for the benefits to stay with us. And I hear you about Netflix bingeing. It's great to be entertained and relax and laugh but our bodies are meant to do something and finding that balance among all the wonderful technology that we have access to, enjoying our families and friends, working, and hobbies is always a challenge - but worth the effort!:)

    2. Yesterday we were driving south from Missoula heading back to the Bitterroot Valley and right in front of us unfolded a three car accident that was about as horrific as you could imagine, and a triple fatality to boot (head on collision with both cars going 70 mph). If we had been 20 seconds further in our drive, we would have been in the middle of it. Those peoples' lives were snuffed out immediately. I have been reflecting on if that happened to me. Hell just driving to work and back is extremely risky. What gives your life meaning if something like that happens? What do you leave behind to give solace to family and friends? I hate to say it and maybe this is totally wrong but if those people had perished doing something that they love, even though their families were devastated, there might be tiny bit of solace in the "they were doing what they loved" as opposed to "they died in a dumb senseless car accident." Okay, that is probably lame and I don't have the ability to put my thoughts into words like you. Hopefully there's some kernel of something in there. Just very thoughtful this morning after witnessing what we saw yesterday...

    3. I think witnessing such a serious accident so close to you is definitely food for thought. I was once a second away from being in a collision involving two other cars. I had to swerve in the ditch to avoid being hit by one of the cars ricocheting across the road. Luckily everyone was OK, but I wasn't prepared for the sheer violence of the impact. Seeing it on a movie is nothing like the real thing and I was shaking for hours afterward.

      I do have to agree that i would rather die doing something I loved than in a random car accident but the chances are much better that a car will be my demise rather than a horse.

      Here's to both of us making it through the next year safe and sound!:)