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Riding Into My future

Navigating Grief, Closing a Business and Launching Purposeful Work

Let me tell you about my soul mate. He’s handsome, sleek, energetic and intuits everything about me. He understands my moods and can sense my tension or joy, keeps me safe and has magnificent soul windows (eyes).

He also has very large, yellow teeth.

My soul mate, JJ, is an Arabian horse I ride once a week. After my father died last summer and I decided to wind up my business that I had been running for 15 years, I thought about what I loved to do as a 10 year old. I was hoping rediscovering my childhood hobbies would bring me some solace to the deep grief of losing my dad and the discomfort of leaving behind the familiarity of a two-decade career.

Riding my grandfather’s horses was a big part of my childhood so I treated myself to a trail ride for my birthday. At the stable I saw that JJ was for lease (who knew you could lease a horse…and inexpensively?!) and decided to give it a whirl. While I had ridden intermittently since childhood, it had been decades since I had been around a horse in this capacity.

And JJ knew it.

He obliged me while I struggled to saddle him and worried that he would run away. He patiently switched his tail at the flies while I FREAKED OUT trying to put the bridle on him. If horses can roll their eyes, he surely did so when, after struggling to saddle him in the dusty heat of late summer, my shirt become completely unbuttoned giving no fewer than 8 geldings a complimentary burlesque show.

I tried to force some ‘whispering’, gazing into his soulful eyes and thinking ‘heal me’. He looked back at me with a passionate disinterest. Nada.

So we spent Fridays together for months. The stable backs onto a beautiful conservation area with trails through gentle, rolling hills. I dreamt of riding through those hills on my white Arabian in the blazing glory of autumn, healing the grief, brainstorming my next business idea and enjoying the beauty of nature.

JJ had other ideas.

At first, all he would do was go into the riding ring. If I would try to get him to trot or canter, he would walk sideways. Sometimes he would stop and REFUSE to budge. Forget about the trails. We would get to the entry and he wouldn’t even allow me to mount him. At the same time I was trying to put together a business plan that was going nowhere. I fretted and worried about next steps. But this is what JJ knew that I didn’t.

I wasn’t ready.

So we rode and rode and slowly we found a groove. One week he let me ride him to the entry to the trails then stopped. By that time, I trusted his instinct and allowed the retreat back to the riding ring. One week, we got on the trail but he would only go so far. I learned to celebrate the tiny bit of progress, even if it was a bit frustrating.  About that time, I threw out the business plan that was going nowhere (along with the ‘shoulds’ that came from my business school training) and decided to pursue one thing-my curiosity.

JJ surely sensed, from week to week, the sadness and the fear of the unknown of this reinvention of my work was manifesting. I’m sure my energy each week was complex and hard for this clairsentient beast to read. So he kept me safe. He would only go as far as he thought I could handle.

After four months we hit a groove- he would still run away from me in the pasture when I would try to put on his halter, leaving me to traipse through 2 feet of mud in the freezing cold. When I persisted, though, he would eventually stop and allow me to catch him. I guess he was testing just how far and how long in the mud and snow I would pursue him. Simultaneously, I had decided on a most unconventional path for creating a business. Textiles. Following my curiosity had led me to a level of creativity and joy in my work I had never accessed previously.

So when we rode, there was a new found ease and communication. No more refusals, just ease. No more sideways walking or teasing me with a canter STRAIGHT TOWARDS A JUMP. Just ease.

As the launch of the business approached, I felt myself retreating to the shadows of paralyzing fear. Fearful thoughts began to pervade all else. Dark, frightening beliefs surfaced: “I could just not launch and be safe and no one would be the wiser” and “This is SO out of my comfort zone-am I really that creative?” 

 Experts tell me that this 11th hour resistance is very typical and is your body and mind’s last ditch effort to keep you safe from something new.

I had it in spades.

As I was in the midst of this, I went out for my weekly ride. Early spring weather meant a soft, hopeful breeze was blowing instead of the biting winds of winter and the sun was warming everything. It was an ideal morning for a ride.

JJ, almost unrecognizable after rolling in the mud, stared and surprised me by running up and allowing me to lead him out of the pasture with zero resistance. We got on the trail and walked slowly, which I was happy to do so I could take in the fresh air. I had no expectations, I just wanted to be out in the forest. When we came to the normal stopping point, JJ kept going and I allowed him, curious as to how far we would go this time. We had only been this far once before and he had suddenly turned around adamantly refused to go any further. On and on we went, up hill, down hill, over streams while picking our way through fallen trees.

This was it-we were going to do the whole trail of several miles. And we did. At the end, there is a long, flat stretch and as we approached it JJ broke out into a FULL. ON. RUN. Like, Kentucky Derby winner run. This did NOT fit my vision of a graceful canter through the woods. He sprinted and I bounced around holding on. I didn’t panic understanding that my fear would panic him, but lost all form and held on for dear life and onto my iPhone. Finally, he slowed or let me believe that I slowed him down to a walk.

We had done it. Full trails, full sprint.

Surprised and a little stunned I unsaddled him and led him back to the pasture. He usually runs off the instant the halter is off but this time he stuck around and rubbed his nose on my shoulder. Back and forth, three full minutes of pure horse love.

And then I got it.

JJ knows. I can do the trail and sprint the last stretch.

I’ve done the homework. I’ve followed my curiosity and have picked through the wilderness.

I’m ready. My new business is ready.

Let’s launch this baby.

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