My mother’s the kind of woman who loves a good belly laugh. Who doesn’t, right? Growing up, many times, those laughs would come at my expense, and usually after something kinda sorta bad happened. As long as she knew my parts weren’t broken beyond repair, or I wasn’t bleeding out, she’d more than likely be in hysterics if it was just bad enough to be really funny.
It’s called schadenfreude, folks. And, crikey, it’s hereditary.
I’ve got mad love, admiration, and respect for my mom though, because she taught me to laugh at myself too, and not take things too seriously.
So when I was nine we had The Christmas of all Christmases. You know, the one all others are weighed against, because Mom gave me the ultimate present: horse riding lessons. I’d been obsessed with horses since before I could feed myself, so this was the Holy Grail of gifts.
In preparation for my western riding lessons, Mom had bought me some sweet cowboy boots. You know, the kind of cool shit-kickers with heels all the serious cowboys wore. At nine years old, I was ready to be serious.
I met Star, the demon horse, on a rainy Saturday early on in my lessons. I’d been scheduled for a private that day, but because of the rain, I had to switch to the indoor paddock and take my lesson concurrently with a group of advanced riders. Advanced jumpers.
Nobody bothered to mention Star’s propensity for jumping until after I was locked in the death chamber with him and the other riders.
My friend and neighbor, Dusty, had accompanied Mom and I that day to watch all the fun horsey action. When I was forced inside with the equestrian Flying Wallendas, and Mom found out Star was a jumper, she only had seven words of warning for Dusty.
“No matter what happens, do not laugh.”
In case you’re wondering, a western saddle has that big horn sticking up in the front that you grab onto for dear life when your horse gets spooked and takes off, hurtling forth at Mach 1, in the middle of an open field. Or when he tries to buck you off by bouncing around like a giant, angry four-legged flea. You’re not meant to jump over hazardous obstacles riding western unless you’re the Lone Ranger or Hugh Jackman in Australia.
Star was feisty, like me, and my instructor tried her best to make me understand that I really needed to “keep him on the wall” and not let him peek over toward the interior of the paddock where all of his friends were jumping and yahooing and having a grand ole time flinging themselves over high, scary objects.
The more I struggled, the more he fought. Funny thing happens when you look where you want to go. Or where you don’t. You end up going there.
Because I was a wee nine-year-old with little riding experience and weak arms, pitted against a stubborn and strong-willed creature with a mind already made up, we inevitably parted ways.
I flew, limbs flailing, right over that damn horn (useless if you don’t get a good grip on it) as Star sailed, much more gracefully than I, over the jump he’d had his eye on.
I landed with a thud on my tailbone in the dirt, with the left heel of my fabulous cowboy boot jammed into my inner right thigh. It had come dangerously close to damaging my hoohah. The purple bruises stayed for weeks.
First thing I heard when I stopped hyperventilating? The peels of laughter coming from my mother. As soon as she knew I wasn’t permanently broken, she. Could. Not. Help. Herself.
Then she hugged me, wiped away my tears, and, in the middle of her giggle-fit, made sure I was going to get back up on that horse.
Now, I’d always wanted to fly, but that ordeal wasn’t exactly how I saw it going in my head for my first time. So I made sure that hell-to-the No. Way. I was petrified. And in pain. And pretty damn embarrassed to boot. I wanted to tuck my tail between my swollen legs and skedaddle.
But that’s not what you do when you fall off, when you fail. You get back on the horse, even when it scares the shit out of you. Especially when it does. And you laugh about how silly you looked and sounded flying through the air screaming that first time.
When you’re battered and bruised and your mother is in hysterics over your failed equestrian acrobatics (rightly so), you pick yourself up and get back on that horse. When you’re nine, or ninety-nine.
Because the only way out is through.
So Mom kissed my booboos, I dusted myself off, and mounted up. It took all my strength mentally and physically to get back up there, and I probably invented a few fun, new curse words that day, but I kept the plucky bastard on the wall in the end.
When it came time to jump months later? Star was all mine. It’s a good idea to learn from our mistakes and use them to our advantage.
And always try to remember to laugh when it goes spectacularly wrong or let someone else do it for you, because, really, life is too damn short not to find humor in our unintended fails.
It’s true that if you never try you’ll never fail. And you’ll also never fly. Jenny Hanson wrote a great post about taking the leap on her More Cowbell blog last week. Please check it out only if you’d like to be inspired.
If I’d quit riding that day, if I’d let my fear (or my mother’s hysterical laughter) stand in the way of my desire, I’d never have felt the glorious rush of intentionally taking Star over that first jump months later.
I never would have experienced the amazing unity you feel when you’re so in sync with the animal beneath you, or the dream in front of you, it’s as though you’re one together and you are flying.
Thank you for that, Mom. And thanks for laughing me through it. And through so many other things along our journey.
Friends, what horse did you get back up on after your mom laughed you out of the barn? Or have you walked away from the horse, never to return? Do you suffer from schadenfreude too? Sadly, there’s no cure. When did you take a flying leap? Did you fail spectacularly and try again, or did you fly first time out? Are you thinking about taking that leap now? Do tell.
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