One of the first horses I ever rode (got my first blue ribbon on him, actually!) was a little, flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding named Najan. As I little girl, I thought Najan was the fanciest, most beautiful horse I'd ever seen, and I had all the Arabian horse magazines to prove it!
As a riding teacher I see that Najan was one of the great beginner lesson horses: adorable, gentle, arthritic, didn't mind routine. Not that he was a "dead-head" - he was smart and would occasionally provide his own entertainment with the occasional buck or "accidental" canter depart with a student who didn't yet know how to canter. Sometimes at a rider's first horse show: "Blue ribbons are neat, but did I just CANTER?" So, Najan was safe and quiet and wonderful, but not lacking personality.
Shortly after I opened my riding school in Colorado 12 years ago, I began a quest to find the perfect beginner lesson horse. I must have had Najan in my head, because the horse that landed in my lap was as close in physical description as I could have possibly have imagined.
I shared my need for the perfect lesson horse with a friend of mine who was familiar with the local Arabian horse scene and she came back the next day with news of a wonderful 19-year-old Arabian gelding she'd heard needed a home. And a job. His owner felt like he had many years of use left, and that he was probably still many years from retirement.
"The owner is trying to give him away - he's just living in an abandoned building in Colorado Springs, babysitting an even older, blind, Appaloosa gelding." So we borrowed a trailer and drove down to Colorado Springs the very next day to meet him.
As a youngster and newbie in the horse business, I'd already made plenty of mistakes buying horses based on price, color (I've always liked Palominos!), breed, cuteness, and whatever other factors make it really expensive to run a business with horses, so despite the fire-sale factor, I tried to be cautious about the possibility of finding just what I was looking for on the first try. I remembered a long-time horse trainer's wise words, "There is no such thing as a free horse," as I contemplated the odds of this give-away gelding being perfect lesson horse material on my hour-long drive to Colorado Springs. Don't get your hopes up, Lisa.
As soon as we arrived, the owner went to fetch him from the pasture as we waited in the dusty, worn-out building. Stalls empty, it was mostly inhabited by birds and spiders now. Dusty bridles hanging on dusty hooks in a dusty barn aisle. Then, footsteps as they appeared in doorway: she was leading the Arabian gelding, followed closely by his blind friend.
She handed me the Arab's lead rope so she could close the gate between the two horses.
I led him into the light and sized him up. He was flea-bitten grey. He was little, but sturdy; just the right size for a kid's lesson horse. He was quiet, his eyes soft. He was ADORABLE. I shook it off - I hadn't even ridden him.
The little gelding had been shown Western pleasure, but I rode English, so I'd brought my saddle and put it on. I'd brought a bridle, too, just in case, but we threw on the bridle he may or may not have worn last time he'd been ridden. When was that?, I wondered as the owner fumbled with the dusty, cracked leather. I got on and rode him around in the empty end of the barn; he had all the right buttons and knew just what I was asking every step. Not many first rides go like this. But I was a pro, and the friend I'd brought with me was an inexperienced rider. The true test would be with a student. So I stepped off, and put my friend on for a lesson. No problem there, either. All he needed to do was get on the trailer, and I had my very own Najan.
And he did. Followed me right in, put his nose right in the hay I'd brought, and the rest is history. That little flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding is Reggie, the White Horse of my Dreams. Lesson Horse Extraordinaire. Painted Indian Pony. Reluctant Unicorn. Comic Relief. Business Partner. Master Teacher. Healer. Friend.
Today, I am happy. Today, I am grateful. I am grateful to cancer for showing me my own reality. I am grateful for the Cancer Center for allowing me to uncover and discover myself, my gifts, and my happiness.
I am grateful for my family, my friends, my Love, and even my enemies, if there are such things. I am grateful for everyone I've ever encountered, for they are all my teachers, and today, I remember that.
Today, I am happy. I have been dusted off, rinsed clean, and toweled dry. I am clear; the world is sparkling and shiny, and there is so much to enjoy! I am grateful for the ability to realize that everything I see is mine to enjoy.
The world is beautiful! So much to appreciate - all the different greens in the trees, all the shades of gold in the grasses, and all the colors in the flowers! Have you seen how blue the sky is today? Do you know how amazing it is that the sun is shining on the mountains, but the clouds are keeping the lowlands cool and damp?
Today, I am happy. I have a new appreciation for conflict, because without it there is nothing to learn, nowhere to grow. I am grateful for growth, I am grateful for everything there is to learn. I realize I know nothing, everything is NEW.
Today, and every day.
I painted this watercolor for my Mom for Mother's Day. She received them the Day After Mother's Day, because that's my style. She's a great Mom, a real original, so I thought she deserved a Girlbert original. They're beautiful flowers, just like her. She tells me she framed them and they're hanging in my old bedroom, now a den/guest room. I can't wait to see them again - Mom, Dad, and the room! The room that my Little Brother thinks that is actually his old room, which is just too silly, since my art is hanging in there.
They're only for her, so I won't be selling any prints, but I was too happy with them to not share.
I've lost five friends to cancer in as many months. As heavy as that may be, I have written a (thankfully, brief!) reminder poem to help my friends and I through this time.
It's easy to be overwhelmed,
but remember, dear friends,
there is another approach,
and I like to think it is the one
they would choose for us.
To celebrate a life
as we mourn a death.
To be grateful for the time we had
instead of regretting what we cannot change.
To smile as we remember a gift
instead of saddened by a loss.
To keep the memories;
lose the anger, guilt.
To carry on in honor of our friends,
inspired by lives well-lived.
To imagine them proudly smiling upon us
as we rejoice in what lies ahead - life.
Their joie de vivre lifts our hearts,
lightens our spirits,
even if their physical presence is no longer with us.
Cancer may have brought us together,
but joy, love, and laughter made us friends.
Sitting in the green grass, sun on my back, I watch my horse move his wrinkled nose through the plump, sweet blades. Bliss. His eyes are bright beneath an increasingly gray brow. He is happy, too.
I look up at the cloudless blue sky; a breeze floats across my face. I look back at Stevie, the sun makes his copper coat shine, the breeze sifts through his tail. He looks up from the grass for a moment, his eyes close in the sun. I admire my lovely friend in the quiet afternoon warmth, enjoying the peace of a wordless bond.
He turns to me to make sure I'm still watching, and I smile. I'm sure he smiles back, then lowers his nose into the grass, back to the business of eating.
He knows what's important. Smiling again, I marvel at his courage, his honesty, his loyalty, and his humor as I remember our years together and think that we are finally just learning to be.