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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bringing The Kentucky Derby Home

Lessons Learned

Running For The Roses


The sort of teacher one becomes is, to a significant extent, the sum of who you are, what you’ve learned, what you believe, where you’ve been, the why’s of decisions you’ve made, the hopes you have, the hurts you’ve encountered, and infinite other influential variables that roll like waves through your life. All of these things impact you, inform you, instruct you, influence you, and become the screen through which your perspective is viewed. Life is indeed a classroom that teaches us to teach. On this particular day, my classroom was a horse show.
Buttons. I was to ride Buttons during the annual horse show held at the neighbor’s farm and riding corral. Buttons was a biter and a bit prone to unpredictable behavior, but only when she turned her ears back. As long as she kept her ears in place, I would only be a little nervous about her, us and the entire extravaganza.  We were novice riders and had just finished our first season of riding lessons. We were also city-slicker kids trying our best to learn how to be country kids, and this horse show was quite the event of the season drawing participants and spectators from a wide range of neighboring farms.  Hair in braids, flannel shirts, jeans, and sturdy boots, were the prescribed costume, and from that aspect, we were fully ready for the show to begin. Any participants without cowboy hats were supplied with one to wear in the show thus completing the appropriate look.  We put on our hats wishing we had a mirror, but we knew that the look was right, and we were just thrilled to be a part of the excitement.  The spectators lined the corral fence and amongst them were our parents.  The judges took their places. The announcer bullhorned a crackly welcome, stirred up the crowd, then commenced the show with the Pledge of Allegiance. Event after event. Rider after rider. Individuals and groups entered the ring demonstrating fine skills and command over these very powerful animals. When our names were called, Buttons and I entered the ring with the rest of our group of beginner contestants.  Please walk your horses.  Perfect. Please trot your horses. Perfect. Please cantor your horses.  Buttons ears went back and my blood ran cold. She took off running like there was no tomorrow, passing every horse on the inside, and gaining steam.  My thoughts were a flurry during those tenuous moments where speed and fear and recalling the need for showmanship collided.  Smile. Our instructor impressed upon us that to smile when passing by the judges demonstrated poise and confidence and control of the situation.  Although I clearly had none of those, I managed to paste on a smile which surely was nothing more than a blur as Buttons and I ran for the roses.  My hat flew off and may well have been trampled, but I stayed on, thankfully. Several neighbors came running into the ring with the instructor at that point and managed to catch Buttons just as she was eyeing the fence and the vast field beyond.  Calm was restored. Hat was recovered. Important lesson learned: when trouble strikes good neighbors come running.  Additional lesson learned: keep smiling even when titer tottering on the brink of a non-optimal outcome.  Whew! What a show!

Through the decades since that exhilarating horse show, which was my closest brush with anything resembling the Kentucky Derby, there have been numerous classroom moments when we have danced on the brink of “oh no” only to have the moment be saved by a kind, thoughtful, intuitive, generous "neighbor," student, parent, or colleague stepping in. And often times the blessing is to be neighbor who is able to step in and help grab the reigns.