Lessons from Zorro

Lessons from Zorro

My first year of horseback riding was my “year of fear.” I was scared, sitting high up in the saddle, straddling what felt like a giant. After all, I was only 7 when I began the lessons, and was already afraid of a bunch of other things bigger than me.

Every Saturday morning at Saddle Tree Farms in Bronxville, NY, I would be assigned a different horse to ride, like Zsa Zsa. This light chestnut filly was unpredictable, and she may have sensed my fear. Her ears would flatten if another horse came too close, and she’d spring with tension if she heard an unfamiliar sound. The insecurity of dealing with a high-strung horse increased my own anxiety.

And then Zorro came into my life. And in the ensuing decade, this horse’s instinctive stability laid some foundations for my own understanding of self-confidence. Sleek, black, with a white diamond between his eyes and a few dabs of white on his hocks, he stood about 15 hands, an average size mount. I was fortunate that the new ringmaster promoted consistent connection between horse and rider. I was “assigned” to ride Zorro every week. That included saddling him, cleaning him, feeding him carrots, and during summer camp programs, mucking out his stall. These caregiving activities helped me bond with him further.

My encounters with Zorro were soothing and comforting. With his laid-back nature, he cantered at a measured pace, as if there was all the time in the world. I could give him “his head;” the more generous the rein, the calmer he cantered. Just a subtle touch of my ankle boots encouraged Zorro to move forward. Just a slight nudge on his bit and he slowed his pace; a soft rub of the reins on one side of his neck and he circled left or right, smooth as a ballroom dancer.

As my skills evolved, he and I began to jump fences together in the outdoor ring. Not terribly high fences, about two or three feet. His approach always steadfast, his canter calm and certain as we circled, prior to launching toward the wooden beams. Several yards in advance of the jump, I could feel Zorro’s pace pick up as he anticipated clearing the obstacle. I would lean forward to lift my weight off his back, to connect more closely with his head, so he could hear me coaxing him, ‘you can do it.” A part of me was speaking to myself.

At that moment, we were a unit, horse and rider, flying over the fence. Zorro, the gentle, wise athlete, knowing how to pace himself; and me, providing my human touch. What a team!

If the judges in a horse show had ribbons for the most self-assured horse and rider, Zorro and I would have won first place. We did, in fact, win some ribbons in hunter competitions; a few of them were blue. I give the credit for those wins to Zorro. It was his lithe, relaxed motion that influenced my feeling competent in the saddle. It was Zorro’s smooth, eloquent confidence that enabled me to become the cocky rider I became!

I didn’t realize during those years with Zorro, that he was introducing me to valuable life lessons - the guidance of preachers and Zen practitioners alike: stay in the moment; remain focused; take life’s obstacles in stride; move forward through challenges with serenity. I’ll add another one: trust yourself.

It can take a lifetime to learn and accept this insight. My youthful experiences with

Zorro, over a half century ago, still resonate, as I strive daily to practice what for him

was innate. Thank you, Zorro, for your unspoken wisdom.

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