There was a time in my life when all I wanted was to be a dude wrangler. In my world it sounded like the perfect job. A dude wrangler got to spend all day with many different horses. And, she got to take little kids out on rides, letting them have a taste of the same passion I had experienced on my trail ride.
This vision was stuck in my head through most of high school. It was good in a way, because it at least gave a little more clarity to my life of horses. However, even though the dream was slightly more cemented, I still had no idea how to reach out and grab it.
High school happened and by my senior year I had managed to get the Colorado State University vet program interested in me. I kept their scouting letter taped to the wall in my bedroom where I could read it any time. In my own little dream world I had just about made it. My horse life was going to be as easy as going to college, becoming a vet and buying my perfect barn full of magical horses. I would use these magical horses to take people out on beautiful sunset rides in my spare time.
Unfortunately, that razor thin edge between dream and reality can be painfully harsh. There was no way, even with the grants, loans and scholarships I had scraped up, that I could afford to go to CSU. With the help of my sister-in-law I got together enough money to go to an all girl, liberal arts college in Missouri. While the adults around me sighed in relief that I managed to get into a decent college, I was devastated. There was no vet or horse program at this school. Not only were there no horses, but I would be completely surrounded by the most loathsome creatures on the planet as far as I was concerned: teenage girls.
It was a recipe for disaster and I knew it whether anyone around me did or not. Anger brewed and broiled inside me and for the first time I started wondering what would happen if indeed I didn’t end up having a life of horses.
The first night in Missouri, when I was supposed to be settling in and forging bonds that were promised to last a lifetime I locked myself in my room and chopped my hair completely off. It was the first time ever that I had done anything to my hair other than trim the ends or dye it. Reality was sinking in though, and my mother’s childhood bribe no longer held me in it’s grasp. None of the boundaries or limitation or reasons for marching forward with a smile on my face mattered.
My self destruction was at least a quick one, and it left me back in Arizona during Christmas vacation begging my mother not to make me go back.
“What, are you going to do if you don’t go back?” She finally asked the day after Christmas as we walked out of a grocery store.
“I am going to move up north and work with horses.” I said.
“Just like that?”
“Well, can I come then?”
And so it was decided. I told my few friends that it was finally going to happen. They scoffed. I told my boyfriend. He had an apartment and a steady job. It never really occurred to me that he would want to come along, or that the decision had much to do with him in the first place. Always the quiet sort, he did nothing but nod a concession.
Once things were back on track, time flew. My mother honestly did most of the work. I was still stuck in my dream world. On March 31st, 2001 we finally packed up our few belongs, my dog, and of course the tortoise and headed “up north” to Christopher Creek, Arizona via Uhaul. My boyfriend drove the van. He planned on driving back and returning the van in the morning. It was dark and snowy on the way up, and as we traveled over the final hill we saw a huge star made of Christmas lights high up in a pine tree. We took it as a good omen and settled in to the small travel trailer that had been set up and awaiting us.
I don’t know how any of us managed to fall asleep that night but we did, quickly. And in the morning, as the sun rose on our new life we awoke, fumbling for coffee in our new, strange, cramped place.
The hours went by and soon it was time for my mother to walk just next door to the restaurant where she had lined us up jobs. I was to start bussing tables there within a few days. No, it wasn’t working with horses, but it was pine trees, and cool weather and located near a riding stable where I was sure I would be hired in no time.
My boyfriend and I said our goodbyes, and he assured me he would be up as often as he could to see me. I watched the Uhaul drive back over the hill, now bright with the sun’s reflection on the snow. I was alone once again. I took my dog and together she and I dove headfirst into the Tonto National Forest. We spent the day following creeks and forest roads and by the time we returned that evening I felt true exhaustion for the first time in my life. It turns out dreaming big dreams isn’t really a great cardio workout. And I was a soft city kid who still had no idea what hard work really was.
It wasn’t long before I decided that it was time to take the final step in making my dream come true. One weekend when my boyfriend was up for a visit I had him take me to the local riding stable. We drove slowly up the dirt road and came to a stop in the dusty parking lot. Here I was. It was now or never. All of my life’s months, days, hours, minutes had led me right here. My dream was a dream no longer. I just needed to have the courage to convince someone else that THIS was what I was supposed to do.
I stepped out of my boyfriend’s car and looked around. There were several horses tied to a horizontal log in front of an old west looking barn. I didn’t see any sign of human activity. My mind was racing, my heart was pumping and I’m sure if my feet could have made the mind/body connection they would have took me right back to the car.
Then I heard the sounds of hooves. Out of the woods came a beautiful blonde girl and a dirty, grizzled cowboy. They both nonchalantly stepped off of their horses and tied them up to the log. The cowboy moved to the porch and sat down, never even acknowledging me. The blonde girl busied herself with the horses.
I watched her a moment before I spoke. She carried herself with an ease among the horses that I had imagined but never actually seen. She wore what even I could tell were expensive western jeans and a straw hat that matched her hair. She finally, quite brazenly turned, squinted her blue eyes and looked me up and down. Having recently spent an entire semester surrounded by girls who had nothing better to do than torture each other, I understood that look completely. “Do not make me squash you like the vermin you are.” was what it said.
I turned to the cowboy, who by this point had leaned back in his chair, watching this silent interaction.
“What can I do for you, young lady?” He asked.
This was it. The universe just asked me what the heck I wanted. It was obvious that I had better come up with a spectacular answer. An answer that would blow the blonde girl and the cowboy out of the water. One that would stun them with my knowledge, and work ethic. One that would have them begging me to start today!
“My name is Christin Coolidge. I’m nineteen. And I can do this!”