Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On Being Bold

I've been thinking about boldness and the role it plays in pursuing one's dreams. One cannot go after a seemingly-lofty goal with meekness. One must be fierce, tenacious, determined, and willing to take risks

Several months ago I had a fire likened to these traits lit within me. I was fresh in the blogging realm and thrilled with my initial success. I had partnered with an amazing photographer, talented local makeup artists and hair stylists, and received positive feedback from friends, family, and strangers on my writing.

During this cloud-nine, sparkly-newness phase I was game on for anything and everything. The sky was the limit. The world? My oyster. I was BOLD.

I relish the boldness I held in that moment because, ultimately, it led to me photographing with horses.

I was tossing around some ideas with my photographer and now good friend, Danielle Alexandra McBrayer, for an upcoming photo shoot in Palm Springs and sort of jokingly said to her in an email "I want to shoot with horses!". That is, I wanted to shoot with horses for FREE, mind you.

Several emails and "no's" later I received a positive response from a woman by the name of Jacklyn from Crazy Horse Ranch. Fittingly, Jacklyn was just crazy enough (and kind enough!) to entertain hosting three San Diego girls to photograph at her ranch outside of Joshua Tree.

Meeting Jacklyn was like meeting the female John Wayne. I'm talking spirit of the west, you bet your boots, rootin' tootin', high ho silver status here.

(Please, mentally visualize my story with gusto because this is going to get good.)

Danielle, myself, and fellow blogger Alison Kinsey had made our way through the dusty, bumpy, pave-less road to Crazy Horse Ranch, roughly 3 hours from our homes in San Diego. Death from exposure was a real thing and I pined for my coastal town's salty breeze.

With Chex Mix, beef jerky, and other less-than-ideal gas station snacks in our bellies and already tired expressions, we came upon the property.

Two ginormous steal stallion sculptures reared their rusting bodies towards the cloudless sky on either side of a large gate. It certainly made for a powerful first impression. I later learned that Jacklyn sketched these horses herself before having them commissioned into sculptures for the ranch.

The ranch boasts over 100 animals, including horses, dogs, cats, goats, you name it. Jacklyn takes care of them all. And with style.

We were greeted by a camel-clad woman in jeans, boots, sunglasses, and a wide brim hat. It was Jacklyn, in the flesh, not over email.

She later revealed two large ice packs stuffed down the front of her shirt. This woman wasn't messing around with the 108 degree heat. Danielle, myself, and Alison eyed her hazily as she went over certain aspects of the ranch and had us sign wavers.

If I died atop one of her horses, I pretty much was saying it was OK. I knew this full well, but I was game anyway.

After touring the ranch and pouring a combined 8 buckets of sweat we were introduced to a dark, four-legged beauty by the name of Candy. Candy would be the horse I would ride and be photographed with for the day. Jacklyn assured me that Candy had the right temperament for this sort of thing and that, despite not having ridden since childhood, I would do just fine.

So with the help of Jacklyn and a stool, I swung a leg over the back of Candy, grabbed a hold of the reigns, and sat up tall. A small crowd of marines who were spending the day volunteering at the ranch had gathered to watch the spectacle. I donned garb not typically worn on a horse. You'll notice in some shots that I have high-heel boots on and a dress with a slit that stretches higher than my mother would approve. Sorry mom!

Needless to say the crowd of onlookers added to my nervousness.

After some instruction Jacklyn allowed me to walk Candy all over the ranch. We stopped to snap photos, Danielle's camera clicking away, and then moved on to the next location, all the while my body bobbing along atop Candy's back. You see, I chose to ride bareback. I made this decision for the aesthetics as well as for the closeness one feels with a horse when riding without a saddle.

What I wasn't prepared for was the complete lack of control I felt. Stirrups are now my favorite thing in the world. At one point Candy mistook my gripping thighs (tightened around her for support as we climbed a hill) for "Go!". She took off on a little trot away from Jacklyn, Danielle, and Alison. I bobbed violently up and down, my previously placid face contorted in fear.

"Stop digging your heels into her!" Jaclyn shouted, trying to catch up to us. 

This was like telling me to close my eyes. Gripping my legs close to Candy's sides was the only thing keeping me from falling off, though it continued to spur her forward in the trot.

The embarrassing thing is that I've cantered numerous times atop a horse (a pace between a trot and a gallop) and taken on jumps with ease. But this was all done with a saddle. Thankfully a few moments later Jacklyn was able to grab Candy's reigns and stop her from taking off again.

I was pretty shook up. The lack of control I felt was alarming. And it could be seen on my face. Thankfully Jacklyn was there with her calming words. She had me breathe out like a horse, flapping my lips, and I instantly felt better (and rather silly). Jacklyn spoke about loosening up on the horse and revealed that a horse knows when to turn without any flick of the reign, just the simple turn of your head. Apparently horses have amazingly sensitive bodies. Candy could tell where I was looking and where I wanted to go before I even steered her in that direction. Horses have like a gazillion muscles and the placement of their eyes allows them to see you all the way back in the saddle.

Several minutes later I was laying along Candy's long, sturdy neck giving her sweaty kisses and grasping softly at her dark main. When my body relaxed, in turn she did. 

We were able to get some really intimate shots of Candy and me under a shady tree due to this relaxed state. She hardly moved!

Looking at the finished photos from this sweltering shoot brings me so much joy. It was not only something that was outside of my comfort zone but something I wasn't even sure I could make happen.

My boldness won out and the results were amazing. This memory will serve as a reminder that taking on what seems to be impossible is the first step in seeing your dreams become reality. I hope it inspires you to do the same with your dreams, whether they involve four-legged animals, career aspirations, or self-improvement. Here are some horse kisses from Candy, cheers!

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