Finding self-worth in horses


What’s one thing that your 10-year-old self thought you would do?
Can you still do it? How would you approach it to make it happen?


10 years old was a pivotal time in my life. Maybe it was all the developmental changes. I just remember that all of a sudden my world opened up. I was discovering new things, meeting new people, and testing the limits of my own abilities. Two critical events occurred that year. In my mind, they tend to fuse together because both met the same critical need by fostering positive self-worth.

It was like Mary Poppins moved to town.

My 4th grade teacher was a young, single woman with lots of energy and creative ideas for motivating and teaching kids. She was one of my first role models. Although I liked other teachers, they were older. I viewed them as parental figures. Miss O’Dea had childlike energy. I could see the possibility of being like her. I wanted to be like her. It helped that we shared a first name.

I learned so much more than reading and math. Frankly, I don’t remember a single lesson  But I do remember how she treated each of us with respect and never talked down to any of us. She was cool. Perhaps the coolest thing she did was to set up a reward system that included things like lunch out with the teacher and visits to her family’s farm for horse rides. By today’s standards, those behaviors would get her fired. But in 1980, it was common practice, especially in small farming communities like the one I lived in. Trust me, this was awesome!

If you find this, please know that all of your hard work paid off.

I also befriended a girl from church.

I’m not sure how our friendship got started or why we didn’t become close before that year. She was a year older than me, yet in many ways we were kindred spirits…and she had horses, too. Tracy was fearless, exuding an unusual amount of self-confidence for an 11 year old. Best of all, she was small like me. She was the one friend with whom I could share clothes. For nearly four years, I spent most Sunday afternoons and several weeks in the summer running around her family’s farm.

She challenged me to a “snipe hunt”, talked me into trying fried okra, demonstrated the fine art of harvesting cherries and apples on horseback. She didn’t just teach me to ride horse. She taught me horsemanship. We mucked stalls, cleaned hooves, and much to my mother’s dismay, got very dirty. She even taught me that breaking rules wasn’t the end of the world. I got more than a few scoldings from my mom about the high heels and make-up upon returning from Tracy’s house. Considering all the trouble I could have gotten into, that was mild. To this day we can still laugh about the fun we had (including a rather humiliating story about how I landed in the freezing cold pond one chilly October day).

That was the thing about Tracy. Somehow she could put a spin on my worst moments so that even I didn’t feel badly about them anymore. She didn’t bully or poke fun. We were friends then, and we still are today. It never occurred to either one of us to be mean-spirited, even when we were crushing on the same guy. Our solution was to gang up on him. We each grabbed an arm and pulled him on to the ice rink.

If you are reading this, Nathaniel, I am so… sorry we put you through that!

ID-100320110I loved horses and fantasized about having one of my own.

To say that it was an obsession is putting it mildly. While horses were the topic that initially pulled us together, it was each ones’ self-confidence plus their unconditional love and respect for me that made the experiences so memorable. They didn’t just provide good examples. In her own way, each one gave me a “road map” to discover my own self-worth. It didn’t happen overnight. I had to learn the difference between confidence and arrogance (see the above cold water story). Both gave me a safe emotional space to grow, make mistakes, and find my own way.

Passing it on

Before I was disabled, I worked with some families who had young girls about that same age. I only hope that my efforts were just as rewarding for those girls. They are all teenagers now, yet I still think of them often and fondly. Blowing bubbles in the yard, learning the finer points of American Girls, getting my backside handed to me playing Mario Brothers video games, and listening to all their hopes and dreams did as much for me as it did for them. That’s the beauty of therapy — you really do get as much as you give.

I won’t be shooting hoops anymore.

My health is too unpredictable to ever try keeping an appointments back-to-back day-after-day, without fail. The families I worked with deserve that kind of consistency and I simply can’t provide it anymore. Fortunately. the agency I worked for is still up an running so families in need will continue to get high quality services.

Yes, this is a shameless plug for all my friends at ASAP Expert Counseling.

Yet I still have value.

If there’s one thing that I learned all those years ago, it’s that I matter just because I am. It’s my turn to be the guide, to share the gift of self-worth. It still surprises me how many women lack enough confidence to take charge of their own health care. This isn’t right.  As a society, we shouldn’t have half the population so insecure. Once they come into their own, women are a powerful force to be reckoned with. It’s a tragedy that so few even recognized their worth, let alone their power.

It’s time for a new chapter.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.