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Riding lessons

What riding a horse can teach you about the world around you
Jenny Johnston

I had the pleasure of attending an event earlier this month during the Durango Cowboy Gathering, where singer-songwriter R.W. Hampton sang a song about how the world’s gone to hell since John Wayne died. Sadly, there’s more truth to that than satire.

Sitting at a coffee shop downtown, that song played in my mind as I drifted to imagine the Duke himself sauntering through the doors and what he would think of the pumpkin spice lattes and white chocolate mochaccinos. I imagine he wouldn’t find them very Americano.

I have a feeling he’d feel more like the Pilgrim himself, journeying through a foreign land of six-dollar coffee and caramel-flavored drizzle, shaking his head at how far we are from where we once worked so hard to be as a country.

We live in a world of drive-through cappuccino instead of cowboy coffee, and what people are missing is that it isn’t even about the coffee.

It’s about the lessons in the effort it takes to make it, the time it takes to savor it, the exhale after the first sip on a cold morning after working before the sun has even come up.

It’s about pouring it to warm someone’s hands as much as their heart.

There seems to be little time for slowing down to take a moment, much less the opportunity to take it all in, and that’s exactly why I decided to throw my kids on a horse as soon as their feet could fit in a pair of boots. It’s nearly impossible to hold an iPad and both reins at once.

Much like that cowboy coffee, the thing about horses is whether you are a city slicker on vacation or a cowboy more seasoned than your great-grandmother’s favorite cast iron skillet, we all get a riding lesson every time we saddle up. The world may have gone to hell since John Wayne died, but it still has a way of looking different from a saddle.

Time has a way of slowing down. I have watched my daughter learn trust, patience, dedication and the value of unspoken communication. There are boundaries between horse and rider that aren’t that different from the gravity between the saddle and the dirt. It’s the space in between you have to honor to stay in one place or the other.

The relationship with a horse is one of give and take. Horses have the innate ability to take the weight of the world off your shoulders when you give them yours.

Riding has taught my daughter there is value in dusting yourself off and getting back up, and that in every failure there is an opportunity to try again. That getting bucked off isn’t the end of the road and that you could ride the same trail a hundred times and see a hundred different views because there is as much room for imagination as determination.

The thing about the view from the saddle is that it gives you the opportunity to look in two directions at once, inward and outward. Looking out at the world from a horse has a way of allowing for a different perspective on both looking out on the trail ahead, and looking inward at the path that got you to where you are. I can’t think of very many opportunities that give you that kind of simultaneous perspective on life.

And the best part about saddling up is that horses don’t discriminate. Anyone can be a cowboy on the trail. Whether you are working cattle for a living, a doctor from Dallas or here on a vacation out with a trail ride outfitter. There is a saddle for us all and a riding lesson waiting to be learned.

Fall is one of the most glorious times to experience Durango’s backcountry. To do it on horseback is an experience that never gets old. It’s the time of year when Mother Nature herself saunters across the landscape with a little bit of John Wayne’s True Grit to her swagger, painting the scenery behind her as she goes, reminding us to take a moment to take it all in, to take the time to savor that cup of cowboy coffee.

From local outfitters to rodeo events and private instruction, there are riding opportunities to get started or participate in the area. Check with your local fairgrounds, 4H clubs, online horse communities and get out there!

Jenny Johnston is a fourth-generation Durango local, part-time rodeo announcer and full-time wrangler to two lil’ buckaroos.

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