Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Me, as Mentor

I’ve never really thought of myself as a role model. Once a girl a grade behind me declared me her “mentor,” but that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her fascination with joining an older students’ “in-group.” She apparently misjudged who I was completely. My friends were brutal to her, but I took it as my responsibility to be nice. Eventually, however, even my nerves were rubbed raw by her nonstop obnoxious bigotry, and I managed to offload her into a clique where she better fit in. Shame on me.

Most of the time, though, I prefer to stick to the role of quiet observer as opposed to being the flashy center of attention. I often go unnoticed, and I prefer it that way. Less trouble, less drama, and a lot more actually gets accomplished.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that I’ve become a hero of sorts to several younger girls, ranging in age from eight to 15. This is particularly true in the barrel racing arena, where I’m championed as the quiet, inconspicuous gal with the fast horses. I guess there is a pretty big discrepancy between the people who go in whipping and sawing and jerking and hollering, only to finish last, and me, the smooth, quiet rider who places, if not first, then near the top. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, either—it’s just that I follow the age-old philosophy of true horsepeople, those who do what’s right for the animal and—surprise surprise—are rewarded for it because it works. Truth be told, though, I don’t think they even notice the animal ethics part of the equation. They just see that I win, and dammit, they wanna win too!

They watch me, they comment on how pretty my horses are, they wish me luck, they’re delighted when I notice them or pass out their prizes at the year-end awards ceremony. I feel a bit bad, too, because I tend to ignore them. It’s not that I’m snubbing my “inferiors”—like I said before, I’m just one to keep to myself. And there have been so many times when I’ve tried to offer advice for horse or rider’s benefit and been rewarded with a snotty comeback and a lifelong grudge that I’ve just stopped talking to people at jackpots, for the most part. I hang out with the aged 50+ been-there-done-that crowd—a group of nice “older” ladies who do right by their horses and serve as role models for me.

But, like it or not, want it or not, parents stop me to congratulate me and ask me questions. They turn to their children and extol my virtues—some of which, admittedly, I don’t possess. “She can do it all—horses and school and music and such! So can you, Junior!” Well, sort of. They don’t know how much I sacrifice, how I’m not quite as much of a praise-worthy Renaissance Woman as everyone seems to think. Oh well.

And as I find myself in this position, I realize that, even if I don’t want or think I deserve this responsibility, it’s mine nonetheless and I’ve got to take advantage of it. Inspire the “next generation,” y’know. Be a positive influence and all that.

So, I try to act like the role model they think I am. I try to clean up my sometimes-foul language and put a stop to the harsh criticism. I especially try to serve as a good example of how to be a good horseperson. Many competitors, after having a bad run, will make a big show out of punishing their horses (for a mistake they undoubtedly made), ripping on the face or spurring the flanks to show the audience just who exactly is boss. As for me, no matter what happens, I make sure to exit the arena on a loose rein, with a cooing “good boy” and a pat on the neck. And if my horses do need getting after, I do it as efficiently and humanely as possible, and try not to let anyone see—imitators abound, and I don’t want people getting the wrong impression.

This means, too, that I’ve got to have a friendly smile and a word of encouragement. All right, can do—let me inspire even though I’m not really worthy of being an inspiration. “With great power comes great responsibility,” or something like that.

But I must admit that having a fan club does wonders for the ego. :)

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