Risk-Taking at 65

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Jane Seskin

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Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
~James Stephens

I told the woman who answered the phone at the local stable that I only wanted to sit on a horse. I didn’t want to go anywhere. No need to sightsee. I just wanted the experience of sitting on a horse.

My idea of exercise is turning a page in the latest Louise Penny mystery. So, for me to want to sit on a horse was a very big deal.

She said I’d have to take a lesson.

Okay, I was game. It was to be a celebration of my sixty-fifth birthday. I wanted to mark this special day by trying something new, something outside my frame of experience.

On the following Saturday morning, with a good friend in tow — one who would not laugh but would record this moment of triumph — we arrived at the stable and went inside. I was nervous. Scared. And beginning to doubt if this was really such a good idea.

I looked around the large indoor ring. It appeared to be populated by seven-year-olds with perfect posture, dressed in complete riding habits, nonchalantly moving around in the circle. I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt proclaiming a love of books, running shoes and the helmet they loaned me for the hour. I felt old and was anything but nonchalant.

Nancy, my instructor, teacher, and all-around-first-lesson caretaker, walked over to greet me. Could she even be eighteen? My adventure-for-the-hour cheerleader stood about five feet tall and nodded to me with a smile that wouldn’t quit. The horse, whose reins she held, was introduced as Lightning. He was sidewalk gray and looked quite bored.

I thought I could stand on a box or stepstool and get on the horse. Wrong. Nancy felt it was important to use the left stirrup and haul myself up and over, hopefully landing in the saddle at some point.

So, my foot was in the stirrup, and I was doing this hop, hop, jump step and holding onto the saddle. (Nancy said I could pull Lightning’s mane, but this seemed too cruel.) Once, twice, no luck. I was still on the ground. I was now soaking wet from exertion and anxiety. Once again, I was thinking of using a box or even leaving. I got myself there, didn’t I? That should count for something.

Nancy was urging me on. I quickly bargained with myself for a total of four tries, and that was going to be it. I would be done. Later, I could only guess that I must have blacked out because, lo and behold, in a magic moment, I was sitting on the saddle on the third try.

And, OMG, I didn’t realize I’d be up so high! I was sure I was going to fall off. Sweat poured down my face. But I was content. Just sitting. I got my wish. Now, let me be. But, no, Nancy told me to take the reins and move. She called out encouragement. “You can do it! You’re looking good!” Lightning and I did indeed move, twice, around the large ring. It was a miracle.

Finally, I was allowed/told I could stop. It took two tries to get down to terra firma. I patted Nancy on the shoulder and thanked her and Lightning. She told me she knew I was scared but thought I was very courageous. I walked outside the stable on wobbly legs, hugged my friend who was standing there smiling, and burst into tears.

I’m not going to run away and join a rodeo. I have no desire to ride another horse. What I took into my heart and soul was an intensely powerful experience of having a wish and making it come true. I’m so glad I did!

— Jane Seskin —

Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC 2023. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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