Be a Bold Swimmer

My friends Gary and Julie Holmes, who run Shangrila Guest Ranch in southern Virginia, just sent me this photo of their one-year-old daughter, Melody, merrily astride one of the trail horses. The contrast of the tiny tot on the giant draft horse made me laugh out loud. If you look closely, you’ll see Gary (or, more accurately, a bit of Gary’s leg) standing on the other side of Rosie. You can be sure he’s holding on to Melody with all he’s got.

After I was done laughing, I began to parse the photo, which speaks to me at a level far deeper than sight gag. For me, this image represents a boldness and delight in life that all of us might aspire to. It came to me at a time when I’m feeling less than bold: I see the gap between my skills as a fledgling counselor and where I wish to be; I wonder if I truly have the ability to help Mystic recover from his seemingly bottomless trauma. My doubts, whether about working with horses or humans, boil down to the same thing: Am I enough?

When I look at this photo, I see a little girl who knows she’s enough. She embodies fearlessness, joy, and power. She’s independent yet supported by her father’s steadying hand. Other people support her too: the person just out of frame who is holding Rosie’s reins, the photographer capturing her moment of mastery. She grips the horn, providing her own stability and security. As she grows up, she’ll look at this picture and be reminded of her own strength and willingness to take risks.

This enchanting picture reminds me of all the supports I have—family, friends, professors, fellow horse lovers—and, most of all, my parents, who are always standing on the other side of the horse for me. It reminds me of the joys of risk-taking and independence. And it reminds me of one of my father’s favorite poems, “Song of Myself,” by the 19th-century poet Walt Whitman—a stunning paean to the power of self-transcendence. Melody, you’re an inspiration.




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6 thoughts on “Be a Bold Swimmer

  1. Still loving your blog! And what a gorgeous picture of the baby astride the horse. I love all that you read into it. Nego and I got to visit with Polly & Thaddeus on Saturday and were talking about how much we all enjoy reading your blog! Hope to see you soon 🙂

  2. What a wonderful photo! Can’t get over the scale of horse and rider!!! And I love Gary’s leg, a reminder of those “on the other side of the horse.” I was ready to suggest that you Photoshop out that intrusive patch of blue denim, and then I realized that it is the whole point.

  3. As you know, I struggle with the same doubts. It is amazing how much horses have helped me in the quest to overcome them and how important it is to be surrounded by those who have complete faith in us. I know all that you have already accomplished, especially with Mystic. His baggage collection is quite extensive, but you are a bold swimmer and that is why you are the one to help him sort through it and are excelling!

  4. Love and our best efforts are all we have to give… and no one needs to apologize for that. If Mystic meets you half way, then it will be enough. It takes two, you know! 🙂

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