Years ago when we first started Dunrovin Ranch, we hosted open houses to lure people to come out to the ranch to ride. Thankfully, our business has grown to the point where we no longer need to do this. They were, in fact, something of a mixed bag. Not everyone was really interested in riding. Some wanted a great place to go and play without interacting with us at all. We had one family drop off seven children who ran amok all day without any adult supervision except for us. And, of course, we were busy helping people who were really interested! So open-house rules soon were put in place, and after a several more years, we were happy to drop the event all together.
They did, however, bring some terrific people to our barn doors. One woman in particular stands out. Her name was Pat. She must have been in her late sixties when she arrived. In her youth, she had been a rider and she missed it terribly, but her adult life had not been an easy one. She was divorced and she had lost her son to a boating accident. She lived alone with several small dogs, and she drove the brightest yellow-colored truck you have ever seen. Clearly, she was a character, a very determined, funny, and engaging character. I took to her right away.
During the open house, she rode Flash and totally fell in love with him. Flash was a really interesting guy in his own right. We called him the “energizer bunny” in reference to the Energizer Batteries commercials that showed a pink bunny that just kept going and going. Flash has the most even, fastest stepping pace we had ever seen. He just went and went and was a completely reliable horse except when it came plastic. He hated it. He would run sideways if his rider attempted to put on a raincoat while mounted. We tried feeding him an entire winter on a big sheet of plastic. While he did overcome his fear of it enough to eat off of it, the lessons did not translate to any other form of plastic. It was, and remains, his nemesis.
After that first heavenly ride on Flash, Pat wanted more. And what she really wanted was to go on a big horseback riding adventure into the mountains. So she decided to train all year in order to go on Dunrovin Ranch’s “Both Sides of the Bob” expedition. This is a 10-day trip that takes people into both the west and east sides of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The trails are steep, hair-raisingly narrow with precipitous drop offs, and long. We would be in the saddle for up to 10 hours a day. Truthfully, at first I doubted Pat’s resolve and dedication to getting herself into shape for such a trip.
But she totally proved me wrong. She had her physical limitations, she understood them well, and she persevered. She also had an offbeat sense of humor, an eccentric way of dressing (cowgirl boots with sparkles!), and was totally un-self-aware. She couldn’t care less what others thought. Her eyes were always down the path and on the journey forward. Her love of riding and her determined spirit pulled her through. When the time came to load the horses in the trailers, she was not only ready, but giddy like a child just let loose for summer vacation. She was raring to go.
Pat’s biggest problem with riding was getting on and off of Flash. Her body held many scars and aches and pains from too many years of doing too much too fast. I tried to take her under my wing and make sure that she safely mounted and dismounted. However, several times during the trip, she fell. Each time she plopped on the ground, I would lend her my hand to pull her up, and she would say to me, with the most charming twinkle in her eyes, “I just need a higher stool.” It bothered her not one tiny bit to fall, dust herself off, and find a higher stool.
By the end of the trip, I was very smitten by this woman. She hung in there through hard, long days of riding on arduous trails in weather of all kinds. Never complaining, always smiling, and just looking for opportunities to laugh, even at herself. I learned a lot from Pat. As my own body starts to refuse to do what it once did, I continually return to her phrase “getting a higher stool.” It seems a good approach to the inevitable decline of our bodies and abilities.
I even use it in helping my dog Jewel navigate her old age. Jewel has had the best life a dog could possibly want. I often kid my friends that when I die, I want to come back as my own dog. I haven’t figured out the logistics of who goes first. Jewel knows nothing but love, endless petting, warm soft beds, and lots of action—action of all kinds. She has always been with me on the trails, the consummate trail dog. When not with the horses, she is playing in the river or chasing her beloved ball. All these years of nearly constant activity have taken a toll on her joints. She now struggles to get into my car, yet she’s not about to be left behind. So, we’ve gotten her a higher stool.
When the doctor told me that my right-shoulder rotator cuff was so shredded that it was not operable, I started to lift my saddle to my waist and get on my own “higher stool” to position the saddle on my horse. And so it goes. With each new difficulty, I hope to follow Pat’s good humor and eyes-forward approach to life . . . and just keep looking for higher stools.
Recently I had a hernia operation. This was my fourth abdominal surgery. Hernias are a given after so many invasions into the abdominal cavity. So my doctor has warned me to never lift anything heavier than 20 pounds or I would regret the consequences. So now I have others put my saddle on my horse for me. However, I don’t really like having to round up someone to help me every time I want to ride. So now I am thinking of a pulley system to store my saddle suspended and allow me to drop it onto my horses. Stay tuned! This is only in the planning stages right now; but I will make it happen.