6/16/08

Lessons from Red

A few years back, we decided to submit our filly - Oops - to "professional" training as opposed to the "domestic" training she had received from me at home. My training was successful, I could ride her, I could wash her, I could pretty much get her to do anything I willed. I loved her and rewarded her with kisses and hugs just as I had since she was small enough to curl up and sleep in my lap.

I have had this filly since she was barely three weeks old. I have raised her much like I raise every other being in my life - with love and adoration and....very little discipline! Oops does not need a lot of discipline but husband convinced me that she DID need some training and experience with other riders and trainers since her bloodlines and her temperament commanded her to be the best of her breed.I relented and we found Red.

Red was a tall black man in his early 70s who appeared to be much younger. When Red walked into his barn, horses took notice. They didn't notice him out of fear or concern but respect and reverence for the great man and horse trainer he was! Red could make a horse dance just by clicking his tongue. He could tell a horse to stand still and it would wait until he told it to move again, ever how long that might be.

I never witnessed Red "manhandle" or "strongarm" a horse, he simply talked to it, and it responded. Even more amazingly, my Oops responded to Red as if he had been in her life as long as I had. As far as horses are capable, Oops loved him equally to me. The conclusion of all of this observation was a profound love and respect for a man to whom I entrusted my horse.Oops stayed with Red for over three months. They bonded, she was his chosen "trail ride" when he just wanted to get out of the barn. She could be trusted and she trusted him - they had a harmony that I actually envied while he voiced an envy for her attachment to me.

She and I connect on a loving level - her the child - me the parent intent upon spoiling her. Her connection to Red was on a more mature level. She and I still have not quite reached that though he convinced me I could - "you got it in ye gal- ye jes gotta quit treatin a horse like a kid!"...yeah right.I never knew Red's full name - he didn't share it with many but my daughter and I learned some profound lessons as we spent time with him in the barn talking to him.

He had been training horses since he was 12 years old and a local horse trainer discovered he could ride. He grew up in rural Mississippi in a time when education and encouragement were not commonly afforded a black youth and the opportunity to train horses was a blessing to him. Even the hours spent cleaning barns and stalls was more than the rest of the world tended to offer him in his early years. All he ever knew was horses, barns and judgment. He wasn't judged due to faith, due to a darkened past or bad attitude, he was simply judged because he was born with a different skin tone.

Red's attitude was not one of bitterness or regret which surprised my daughter who was 10 years old at the time. His attitude always reflected a love of God and appreciation for every little benefit he EVER received. He gave unconditionally - just like my Oops and he asked for nothing short of a fee and handshake in return. He was never ashamed that he could not read or write but it took him a while to entrust that new friends would not judge him. SO, he kept his secret quite effectively.

A young friend of his - a boy stricken with cerebral palsy - spent a lot of time in the barn too with the horses his parents had given him. These parents entrusted Red to keep the boy safe and Red entrusted the boy to do his part in maintaining these horses. Many days we would pull up to see the boy reading the latest issue of the "Walking Horse Report" to Red but did not even realize he was reading the words because Red could not. Red memorized those names of horses and breeders and could quote bloodlines, statistics and show schedules quite efficiently.

A new acquaintance would never know that Red was "disabled' educationally. Sadly, society would never claim their role in that disability to any level that could compensate Red. Red had enough humility to ask my husband to fill out the sale papers on a new truck he purchased without ever looking or giving the sense that this left him feeling inferior. Of course, husband understood Red's superior ability with horses and his unlimited knowledge of the breed characteristics and expectations we should have of any particular horse we wanted to purchase.

Whenever something was given to Red, he fully gave something back.Eventually, my Oops came back home - better trained and more confident with new riders. This meant an end to my professional relationship with Red. I don't know who grieved the most - Oops or me. We always managed to come up with an excuse to visit his barn - a new horse to see - questions about new tack - maybe just to recite a new article we had read - knowing fully well, he could recite it right back.

Amazingly, for a man in his 70s who could not read or write - he could remember as if he were in his teens! He taught my daughter not to feel sorry, remorse, regret or anger about past times but to embrace the here and now and the people that are present. He taught her about birthrights, acceptance, and never letting go of a dream. In a place that still seemed to want to embrace past traditions, Red taught us that past traditions sometimes made for a better man now.

He inspired my daughter to listen to stories, read her history and try to make the world a better place. He discussed openly the times of the past and their impact on his life. She never witnessed anger or judgment, only fact and compassion as she would cry at the thought of a child being denied their right to learn to read.

Red inspired me to acknowledge the value in every human life regardless of what the world around me told me of their value. We don't spend enough time with our elders and we don't seem to encourage our children to either. We are so consumed with what they WILL BE, we forget the part of the lesson that tells them what others were denied in the past. We look upon those times in shameful silence failing to respect the truth of the times and respectfully present that truth to our sons and daughters. The worst part is we fail to recognize the priority of God in our lives and God's role in our futures.

We moved a few years ago and I have lost touch with Red. There is not doubt however, that Red has never lost touch with the man he is. On the off chance that his life has transitioned to the higher ground, I am sure he is now teaching a few saints how to ride their spoiled horses.

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