How A Reliable Horse Delivered Personal Growth
Many of our life lessons are learned from other people, so personal growth should be continuous if we want to become balanced, productive adults.
As a young boy, I got a good start by working with horses for a couple of summers. It was fun being a carefree cowboy, so as an adult, when I met a wilderness guide, it was easy to relate to his experience with horses in the bush.
Randy told me about a horse he rode named Jughead. It turns out he was a mischievous, sometimes cantankerous critter, a lot like some people.
Randy said if you were on a bush trail and Jughead saw a low hanging branch ahead, he’d do a little two-step into a quick trot for the few feet it took him to pass under the branch. His hope was you’d be dozing and get knocked out of the saddle. If it worked, he’d stop and look back at you sprawled on the ground, as if to say, “Look at you down there sitting on your arse.” “What's up?”
Or if there was a big tree coming up real close, he’d do that little move again, and take a shot at squeezing your leg in the stirrup between him and the tree.
Horses have powerful instincts and intuition
But on the days, you’d be trailing the guests and their horses home up in the mountains, and come to a scree, there were no more games.
A scree is where shale and rocks slide down the mountainside. It’s a gravel road on a steep angle. They can be dangerous, especially in poor light or rain and snow.
Randy would let the reins go slack. as the horse began to pick his way across. There was a trail, but nobody could see it. That made it worse for the riders. They could look 300 feet down to the tree line.
Jughead’s steps were imprinted by the other horses, all quite content to follow his lead.
Once safely across everyone would feel that huge relief when danger passes. Jughead went back to looking for a big tree or a low hanging branch.
Hardship adds character and builds personal growth
If Jughead was a human he probably would have smoked, drank a bunch, and cursed a lot. It’s that way sometimes when you make your living outside in the weather. Comfort comes at night, dead tired, in a warm bed.
The rest of life involves the elements. Personal growth comes from being cold, wet, and having lots in common with people living and working the same way.
There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” — Winston Churchill
Randy was also a heavy-duty mechanic and worked off and on in our small truck yard. I am not a mechanic, so having one on the crew was a necessity. The half dozen trucks and trailers were on the road 5 or 6 days straight, so weekends meant doing a lot of inspections and repair work. 18 wheelers are the modern version of a 6 horse hitch and a freight wagon. We also did not want drivers around on weekends. That was their family time, and we stuck to the rule.
Visual inspections take time and attention
The work was done out in the yard. The little welding shop we rented was too small to fit our tractor trailer units inside. It wasn’t ideal, but we made do.
Equipment parts need two things: grease and replacement before they wear out. Trailer brakes were a critical component. We ran through the Canadian Rockies and coast mountains so the steep grades required weekly inspections including all tires and brakes. Regular oil changes and electrical repairs to lights and wiring were ongoing. The salt used on the highways in winter caused endless corrosion.
Greasing outside in the cold was made easier if we lay on pieces of heavy cardboard underneath a unit and propelled ourselves around with our legs. The cardboard slid very well on the compact snow and we used headlamps to see what we were looking for.
When we first started working together, I quickly realized I didn’t have to be the “boss”. Randy knew far more about equipment than I did, and if something “stumped” him, it wasn’t long before he had it figured out.
I’d had other part-time mechanics, and usually, they needed to be led.
It became easy for them to fall back on “It’s good enough.” I don’t like those words. They do not contribute to personal growth and good work habits.
With Randy, it was easy to park my ego and become a follower. He had the instincts to judge whether something needed to be replaced, or let go for another week. I knew I could trust his judgment.
The results were what was important, and we were completing work orders. I became the apprentice, and it was a role I took very seriously. When I made a mistake, Randy would always correct the error and make a comment about “apprentices, can’t trust ‘em.” It was all in fun and we’d laugh and carry on.
Randy’s calm demeanor, dry humor, and determination got us through some long days. I could see how those traits made him good with horses. If anything on earth requires patience, its a horse.
Accept what positive circumstances provide
Randy took the panic out of the weekend service marathons. He didn’t just pick the easy jobs. All the work we were capable of got done. If a unit needed to go to the dealership and their diagnostic equipment, it was scheduled. Time wasn’t wasted pretending we could fix the problem.
We talked a lot, but the work kept happening. I became more competent at managing fleet maintenance, always mindful of the bigger picture. And I learned some tricks about self-help and being a good heavy duty mechanic.
But most of all I enjoyed the company of a good friend. Randy was honest and grateful, despite the ups and downs in his personal life. He maintained a superior work ethic that matched my own ambitions.
He was a good listener and had the patience of a saint when it came to things that would not come apart or go back together. Kind of similar to life itself.
And I think we probably both gained some personal growth from Jughead. A horse that played the cards he was dealt, always ready, and able despite that mischievous look in his eye watching the trail ahead.