Yesterday I did something that terrified me: I rode a horse. I can’t tell you how this fear came about or where my fear of horses stemmed from, but all I know is that I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be scared anymore. Or, more appropriately, I wasn’t going to let that fear hold me back anymore.
And I survived. There were definitely moments where I was scared, but those moments of weakness were crushed by the overwhelming moments of strength - the moments where I told myself, “Johny, there is nothing to fear here. You’ve got this.” Those thoughts then turned into “I am so proud of you, Johny. You’re doing it.”
Twice now in my improv career I’ve had scenes where I’ve had to interact with horses. The first time came in my 101 level class where my scene partner and I were supposed to be brushing our horses’ manes while having a conversation about something else. And although it was a totally make-believe situation with pretend horses, I couldn’t do it. Like what? I don’t blame myself for having a moment of panic… it happens, but still - c’mon Johny! The most recent improv experience involving horses happened just about a week ago at my musical team’s practice where our suggestion was “horse.” I let out a sigh, and, begrudgingly, “yes-and”-ed the scenario instead of asking for a different suggestion.
Upon completion of our practice, my team all went out for food (which has become a really nice little tradition we’ve established, especially since they really encouraged me to go since I had just gone through a breakup), and something really resonated with me. One of my friends told me something about myself that I’d always known but hadn’t really thought of recently until she said it out loud that night. She told me that she thought it was funny I had a fear of horses because I was actually like a wild horse. She told me I was a free spirit meant to run wild and that I shouldn’t ever let someone try to put a saddle on me. And she was right. And now that the saddle has been removed, I feel more alive and free than I’ve felt in a long time.
And that’s why I decided to conquer a fear and ride a horse. Because fears are meant to be conquered. And it was fate. I knew as soon as I heard the name of my horse and saw the number “5” on his thigh that I was meant to conquer that fear. My horse’s name was Jethro, which was the name of Moses’ father-in-law - a Biblical story and relationship which has come up at some of the most important and defining times throughout out my life. And the significance of the number 5? It was not just the number I wore when playing sports; “Fiver” was the nickname my late softball coach, Mr. Long, called me whether it be on the field or in deep discussion. Signs are everywhere, and I believe in them. I don’t believe in coincidences. I truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and there is no way that my horse being named “Jethro” and bearing the number “5” has no significance. Everything is somehow connected, and that is an absolutely beautiful, hopeful truth.
I spent the last year-and-a-half of my life compromising on things and being complacent with not just my fear of horses but with a lot of other things, too. And that’s okay because everything happens for a reason - even the bad. I learned a lot about myself, and I now know that I don’t need to be saddled or pushed by someone else to motivate myself - just the opposite, actually. I need to be free because I’m best when I am. I’ve always been independent and strong-willed, capable, able-minded and confident in my own decisions. That isn’t going to change, and it shouldn’t. And one day, I’ll have another independent, free spirit alongside me who pushes himself, too. He’ll push himself not because I want him to or because his parents want him to but because he wants him to. And that will be beautiful.
Life is about growth. It’s about changing and becoming more aware about yourself, your needs, and the ever-changing, growing, beautiful world around you. One of my favorite quotes is from Howard Thurman. It says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
And I, for the first time in a long time, feel so alive. And there is nothing more exciting than that.