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I went to Montana to be a cowgirl

What little girl doesn’t grow up dreaming of having a horse at some time in her life? I was that girl, totally obsessed with everything to do with horses. I’ve had one horse or another ever since I was twelve. So when I told my family last year I’d like to go Montana to ride horses, they were understandably puzzled. ‘You have a horse here!’ they said.

I will confess, it wasn’t even my idea. A girl I’d met only a few times, who shared a mutual interest in horse riding, asked me to go with her. Halfway around the world. For two weeks. Did I mention we’d only spent about 4 hours total in each others company before this? But she liked horses, so what else did I need to know!

As the dates got closer, I started to panic. What if she didn’t like me or we didn’t get along? How would my husband and sons cope without me? I started packing meals into the freezer for the boys like I was doomsday prepping, writing them charts and schedules. I realised I’d never taken a trip without them. I hadn’t even travelled alone, ever. But this was once in a lifetime stuff…horses, cattle drives, big cowboy hats!

This place was epic, a real working cattle ranch set into the mountains and pretty remote. Just pretty, really. That first morning when they brought the horses galloping into the round yards my anxiety peaked again. What was I doing here, this english style rider from Australia with my brand new cowboy boots? I’d barely been out of an arena in ten years! I felt like such an imposter.

As soon as I was handed a mount, I felt better. This was what I came for! She was a sweet little mare and we had some great mountain rides over the weeks, including a three day cattle drive that meant camping for two nights, and some of the longest days i’ve ever spent in the saddle. I didn’t get laughed at (much) about my ‘default setting’ english posture and hand position. I did spend some time trying to copy the ranchers’ one handed relaxed style while wondering what to do with my now awkwardly free hand.

My fears about the company were baseless too, it turned out. The laughs and in-jokes I shared with my new bff had me wondering why it had been so many years since I had made a new friend. She was so unconcerned with what the world thought of her, and I hoped a bit of it rubbed off on me.

Once I got home, I realised how unadventurous I’d become in my life, how closed to spontaneity. It wasn’t my daily life I was dreading, but that I wasn’t challenging myself. It turned out to be one of the best holidays I’ve ever had (sorry, family…no offence!) It pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me think about how my happiness and self worth could be improved by taking some risks.

I also have no doubt it improved my riding. Not in a technical sense, but in the way I perceived it. Rediscovering that connection with my own mare was priceless. In fact, she is retired now, content to be a glorified lawnmower doted on by a still very horse crazy girl. My enjoyment of my horse, like my life, was suffering from too much planning, over calculated risk assessment and the dreaded routine. So really, I got a holiday, some perspective, a new friend and yes, a big fancy hat.

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