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September 1, 2014: Once in a Blue Moon

Sometimes things happen, things that one has to see as being self-significant. The trick is that one has to be aware of their significance. These things are an indication to others and to oneself that the one in question might actually be smarter than others think. Such moments are a cause for self-celebration.

I have had three such defining moments in my life. The first was when I was in my final semester of college at Cobleskill Agricultural and Technical College. I was the final year in a two-year program. All students were required to take a two week class called animal husbandry

techniques – one in which they tended to the horses. Seniors were the ones in charge. I who was a senior had a handful of freshmen under me. They were a tight group, I at times heard mutterings about my asking them to do this or that. I ignored these mutterings, and the jobs that I assigned to them got done. I did not concern myself with how well they liked me, or to what degree they considered me to be competent. I just did what had to be done.

One day, one of the students at the far end of the shed row went into a stall and failed to close the door behind her. The mare inside bolted out, and headed in my direction. As she started to gallop past, I reached up, grabbed her halter, and stopped her. I then reached for a lead rope – one was hanging on a stall door. I calmly attached it to her halter, lead her back into the stall, latched the door, and walked out. The four or so students who were standing nearby, all had looks of disbelief on their faces.

“Make sure you close the door behind you,” I said, and walked away. A pivotal moment for sure, because with little fanfare, I made it clear that I, who was in charge, knew what I was doing.

This was a defining moment because I had, in a very subtle way, indicated that my education had not been for naught – I had become a good barn manager.

Yet another story: It was October, 2002. I had just finished riding the Great Divide Bicycle Route – had taken three months and ridden from northern Montana to southern New Mexico. I met up with three younger cyclists in Salida, Colorado. Two were Swiss, one was American. Two were male, one was a female. We were travelling at about the same speed, so we travelled together for three weeks. For some odd reason, they didn’t think too highly of me, so things got really awkward, with the trio eventually trying to outdistance me. They were faster, but I had more endurance, so we ended up camping in the same area each night. It finally got so that they were ignoring me. It was unnerving – having to deal with them, but I did as best I could.

We leap frogged several times near the end of the route, with the trio being ahead one day, and me being ahead the next. I did not think that this was in any way a competition, but clearly, they did.

On the final day, I made it to Antelope Wells, and set up camp at the border, where my biographer, Christopher Benson, was to come and pick me up and take me back to home to Butte, Montana. I was pitching my tent when a truck drove up – the driver said that he was going to shuttle a Swiss couple and their companion back to the nearby airport. Putting two and two together, I realized first, that he was speaking of the threesome that had given me such a hard time. And I realized second, that they were finishing behind me.

The driver waited for them for several hours. He became increasingly more irritated because they were late. Finally, at dusk, they rode up. They said nothing to the driver, but instead pulled out cookies and apple juice, and began celebrating their accomplishment. I, who had been talking with the border guards, strolled over to the surprised finishers and said in a matter of fact voice, “Hey you guys. This fellow has been waiting to take you to the airport for quite some time. You should hurry up and get a move on.” With that, I turned and walked away.

This was a defining moment because I had, in a very subtle way, indicated that my bicycling efforts had not been for naught – I had done the Great Divide Ride, and finished strongly, under my own power.

And one more story. The past few days I’ve been attending the Alaska State Fair horse show, not as a competitor, but as an onlooker/support person. Being the latter has been difficult because by not showing, I’m on the fringes of things. In fact, there have been moments in which I’ve felt like a cling on. And mean, what do I know about horses, riding, or horse care? Quite obviously, I’m not an authority on the subject; otherwise, I’d be riding, right?

So late this afternoon, I was sitting with Vickie, Beth, and a few others, taking a break, when Beth, out of nowhere said “Alys here is a student in the science of riding.” I of course looked surprised, but I was actually pleased by the complement. In fact, so much so, that this prompted the following: Vickie, as she’d done a few times, again began to speculate as to how she might get Hunar to take his left lead.

I, who usually profess to know nothing, blurted out “turn your head to the side beforehand.”

“I have been turning my shoulder,” Vickie said.

“No, turn your head. This will change the position of your seat bones.”

“Good idea,” Beth said.

I thought this was the end of it. Minutes later, Vickie entered the arena on Hunar -- this, an equitation class, was their final class of the day. The group of six riders then did as the judge asked – walked, trotted, cantered. She next asked for a canter in the opposite direction, meaning that this time, Hunar would have to pick up his left lead.

I watched, as Vickie, going past me, asked Hunar to pick up the correct lead, in part by turning her head. And I inwardly cheered as Hunar did as asked. In going past again, Vickie said “Thank you Alys.”

This was yet another defining moment. I had indicated to Vickie (and probably to others) that indeed, I am indeed, an astute horse person.

This final moment, it has me now thinking hard about my future plans, in regards to riding instruction.

Next: 235. 9/2/14: Show Day