When I first starting volunteering at TQ, the last thing I expected to do was help with the Teen Quest horse program. Don’t get me wrong; I have always loved horses! I had horses when I was a kid, rode a lot as a youngster, some as an adult, and had as many bad experiences as good.
When the Head Wrangler offered to let me ride, and help out, I was all about it. Tom is the real deal. He has lived off the grid his entire life, and raises longhorn beef, goats and horses. I learned a lot from him, but the most important lessons I learned weren’t even about horses. His old timey ways made me realize that our culture has forgotten to teach our teens timeless virtues. The lessons he has given teens and me are little nuggets that I feel are too good not to share.
1. If You Don’t Make It On Time, You Don’t Git to Ride.
This was a deal breaker. If campers signed up for horses and they were late, they were sent back to their cabin. No second chances, no excuses. No coming back the next day. Wow, do kids need this lesson today! Harsh? No. This is life. If you make a commitment, you follow through. This lesson will carry over to school, work and into relationships.
2. Always Take Care of Yer Stuff, and Don’t Go Throwin’ Good Leather Away.
Leather is valuable to a cowboy. It isn’t easy to come by and can always be recycled. He took good care of leather, and he took good care of his health. He valued quality leather, healthy food and the good things that God has given us. Today, we are in a lot of hurry. We don’t value the riches already at our disposal if it takes time. We need to take the time to value the gifts God has given us.
3. A Gentleman is a Gentleman, No Matter Who is Lookin’.
Character doesn’t come with an “on off” switch.
4. If Yah Need to Say Somethin’- Just Say It.
You never had to wonder if you did something wrong and he wouldn’t go talking about you behind your back. Nope, he said what was on his mind. Relationship are healthy when we say what we need to people. The bible is full of references on how to communicate to others with love, respect, and forgiveness. We need to apply biblical principles when relating to others.
5. When You Don’t Need to Say Something, Yah Don’t Need To.
Tom was a man of little words. This was something new to me. I realized how peaceful it was to only say what was necessary. James 3:1-12 talks of taming the tongue and even compares it to a bit in the horse’s mouth, controlling the entire horse. We need to think before we speak and only speak if it ’s important.
6. Always Treat Women and Children Kindly.
7. No Matter How Far You Come, You Can Do Better.
One day on a ride, my horse caught me of guard, backed up and went into a 6 foot ditch. I hung on for dear life as he took a couple leaps to get us back out. Me and the other helper were laughing so hard and we were both impressed I stayed on. When we bragged to Tom, he just responded firmly, “It’s yer fault that horse when into the ditch!” That moment was a life changer for me. I learned to accept responsibility instead of blaming the horse. We need to accept responsibility when we make a mistake and not blame other people or things.
8. Fear is No Excuse.
One day during horse camp, Tom had all the girls ride horses bareback. They were afraid and pleaded to have a different lesson that day. There were some tears, and I piped in for them to imagine themselves as Indian princes. One girl sat up straight, flipped her long hair back, smiled and said,“Look! I am an Indian Princess”. Tom said,“Cut it out with the princess stuff!” He wanted them to not give in to fear or weakness. Then, he turned to me with a smile and a wink. Courage is when we are afraid, but we do it anyway.
9. Don’t Mess With the Horse People.
I was often the brunt of many jokes at camp. After all, we all teased each other as a sign of endearment. But when Tom was around, he always defended me with this statement, “Don’t mess with the horse people”.
What if we became a culture that defended each other? What if we wrapped our arms around the person being bullied and said, “he is on my team.” I bet work and school bullying would not even be a thing.
10. No Matter How Long You ’ve Been Doing Somethin’ , You Ain’t Too Old Ta Learn.
Tom could go into a field with ten horses, a bucket of grain, and dominate them into submission. This worked well for him. Me, on the other hand just wasn’t feeling it. They would often kick and bite each other to be the first to get a bite. I took up courage one day and said he would be on his own catching horses if he wanted to do it that way. (Mind you, why the heck would a cowboy need to even listen to my idea?!) He asked how I would do it. I showed him my horse catching savvy skills and he said, “that works” and we changed how we did it from then on. He also was open to the idea of switching to a bit-less bridle on some horses that had sore mouths from years of having beginners tugging on the reins too hard. If it worked better, he had no problems changing! Always be open to learn something new, even from someone who isn’t as smart as you.
11. If You Need a Nap, Take One.
Living off the grid has perks!
12. Don’t Miss Sunday Morning Preaching!
13. If Yer Life Ain’t Working, It’s Cause You Ain’t Listening to Jesus.
2. Yer Neighbor is Your Ally.
Tom and his neighbors and church community had a communal garden, and regular monthly meetings to prepare if there was ever an emergency.
14. Never Stop Ridin!
The last time I spoke to Tom, he said he wasn’t riding horses much anymore. He has some age related health issues and just can’t. Getting older is inevitable, but I heard him loud and clear when he warned me not to quit ridin’.