Approaching life with an open heart is a gateway to higher consciousness. By transcending the physical, the heart touches the essence of all living beings.
Courage and Heart
When I first learned the etymology of the word courage, my heart fluttered; it spoke deeply to my soul. It felt revelatory and yet as if I had known it all along.
In one of its earliest definitions, courage meant: to speak all that is in one’s heart. The root word, cor, is the Latin word for heart. It made sense to me. The heart is often considered the seat of the soul.
Mental or moral strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty, which often requires delving deep with the heart, is a courageous act. Horses are a prime example of that behavior.
Competing in the sport known as Endurance, which entails racing 50-100 miles on one horse, I have witnessed the courage of many horses. When a horse has courage, it is said to have heart.
Endurance Riding and a Day of Firsts
One such race is in Australia, called the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.
At this race, I was riding a borrowed horse named Lacy, aka Quartz. It was a day of firsts. It was the first time I had ridden her, it was Lacy’s first 100 miler, and it was a first for what we were about to encounter.
In any race, the horse’s well-being is always at the forefront of my mind. By riding a first-time horse on a tough 100-mile course, I was undertaking a massive obligation. If I had known what was in store for us, I might not have started, yet I do know life never throws things at you that you cannot handle.
On a 100-mile race, the pacing is crucial to get through the course. Young horses make the mistake of taking the first 50 miles too fast. And Lacy was no different. If there was any hope for completion, to slow her down was imperative.
Entering the first mandatory veterinary checkpoint at the 20-mile mark, my hands were bloodied from trying to control Lacy’s speed. I now understood why her nickname was Quartz. She was unyielding, headstrong, and not a team player.
Seventy Miles Into the Race: Rain and Lightning
Seventy miles into the race, it had started to rain. Thunder and lightning could be seen and heard in the distance. The worst storm in 100 years was heading our way.
As we arrived at the top of the mountain checkpoint, the lightning caught the thunder and time stopped.
Three quick strikes to the ground, the lightning surrounded Lacy and I. At that moment it was so bright it was blinding, so loud it was silent, and so terrifying it was paralyzing.
Once the darkness reappeared and the sound of the rain returned, I noticed many riders off their mounts huddling next to a few trucks. Without thinking, I followed suit and dismounted Lacy.
Conquering Adventure as a Team
My gut screaming at me, I knew this was a bad idea. I looked up to see Alwyn Torenbeek, a legendary endurance rider in his 70s, trotting down the road. He was not stopping. I wanted to follow his lead.
Lacy was wide-eyed, visibly shaking, and aching to bolt as her instincts called to her.
With every horse I have ridden, there is a definitive moment when they decide to yield to you. Speaking to Lacy with a clear heart, she understood I was her lead mare, which in horse means, she trusted me. It was at this moment we became a team.
Instead of mounting, I grabbed her reins and jogged away from the mountain top in pursuit of Alwyn. Within half a mile we caught him and I was able to mount.
A Horse With Heart
Lacy was a small horse with a heart as big as any Clydesdale. For the next 22 miles, we were in this together. I needed her brawn, and she needed my guidance. Crossing the flash flooded streams and rivers with only her head and my chest above the waters, she swam as fiercely as she could, fighting to stay on course. We conquered adventure after adventure with Alwyn leading the way.
Arriving at the next veterinary check, amidst an electrical storm, they informed us the race was on hold due to safety concerns. We had covered 92 miles.
With Lacy wrapped in warm blankets and all the food she could eat, I changed into dry clothes and waited to see if the race would resume. Over 90 minutes passed when they told us we could continue — if we wanted.
At this point, many riders had called it quits but I went in search of Alwyn. We headed out together for the last 8 miles.
Courage, Compassion, and Kindness
Coming into the finish Alwyn slowed, insisting I pass the finish line first. I hesitated, knowing without him, I might still be on the top of the mountain. But he waved his hand as if to say we had earned it.
We finished around 50th out of 204 who started. Less than 50% completed the race.
Courage was evident that day in every team of horse and rider. My heart swells as I think of Lacy. Our souls collided, and our hearts spoke. I will always respect how much she overcame; the courage it took to trust a human when all of her instincts said to run. The most significant honor I could bestow upon this mighty mare is she is indeed a horse with heart.
In light of COVID-19, I urge everyone to find the courage to do the right thing. Triggered by underlying factors unapparent to others, fear can be overwhelming. Fight against the inclination towards panic, choose kindness instead of judgment, and have compassion for our fellow man. Let us use this opportunity to realign our priorities and emerge with strength and hearts filled with love.
HMU: Joanna Wood