Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life, Ain't It Grand? By C.P. Stringham

Life is about perspectives. Moments when you stop whatever it is that you are doing, and take time to look around and savor each little nuance. These nuances are the things you would normally take for granted because you’re always in a hurry or too preoccupied by something else to notice. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Time to examine your own feelings due to that moment. Contentment. When’s the last time you’ve recognized your own contentment? We take so much for granted because we are so focused on getting a chore, a workday, a workweek over with or even wishing away time to bring a big event, like a vacation or holiday, closer.
Lto R: Ryan's key fobs; the grub tables; organizers thank you board.
             This past Saturday was the 3rd Annual Barrels & Bikinis fundraiser held at Rockin’ N Stables & Ranch and, as previously posted on the Broads of a Feather blog, local equestrian Carolyn Mosher was the honoree recipient of all proceeds. Now, my family and I are no strangers to equestrian events, but this one was different. We were there, each and every one of us, for Carolyn and not a trophy or ribbon or even year-end points. Despite her diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer, she never let it dampen her spirits. She was her normal gracious, accommodating, fun self and all dressed up for a day spent in the saddle with her horse community friends.
Perspective #1: Even when life has handed you a scary diagnosis, saddle up and ride anyway.
L to R: Abby sporting her bikini while posing with Carolyn; Carolyn and Sean who isn't afraid to wear pink in support of his mother's battle; Carolyn and Houston waiting "in the hole."

We spent the majority of our time walking around and visiting with people. Renee and Harold Nichols were there as event supporters with their mobile tack shop. Patty Minard and her daughter, Abby, were there. Abby was a competitor. Like Carolyn, Patty and Renee each know a little something, first hand, about cancer. Patty had stage IV Metatastic Melanoma and Renee had lymphoma in the recent past. Patty now tours the country as a guest speaker for Bristol-Myers Sqibb to help promote the drug, Yervoy, that she and her team of specialist credit for saving her life.  She told me, “This is the second time I’ve battled melanoma. The first time I was diagnosed with stage II.” Patty is very upfront while discussing what she and others like her go through from diagnosis to battle and the hardships one faces. Finances are always hard to manage. We even talked about how hard it is when friends step away from you because of the illness. Some are afraid and don’t know what to say. “Others act as if they are afraid to hug you for fear of catching it. Like you’re contagious or something," she said. While she talked, it gave me time to think about what I’d do in Patty’s place. Abby is close to my oldest daughter’s age. Like Syd, Abby loves horses.  What is it like to be going through the horrors of cancer and being filled with the constant worry of not being around for your children? Or seeing them reach adulthood and all that it has to offer? My time spent talking with these wonderful, strong ladies reminded me of how precious life is. Each year, each month, each day we get to spend with our loved ones truly is a gift that many of us take for granted. Carolyn, Patty, and Renee like to point this out to everyone. Don’t waste time.  
Perspective #2: Live life, appreciate everything, and love deeply.
L to R: Harold and Renee Nichols of Nichols' Saddlery; Patty and Abby; Merideth and Brittany who each competed. 

Monte going pink for Carolyn. What a great sport!! Photo by Lea Halderman
While the reason for the event was serious, spectators and competitors kept the mood light. There was horse talk, naturally. Stories of past events. A stray raindrop fell from time to time, but nothing ever became of it. Everyone just settled in, rain or shine, for the day. As the start time approached, laughter and cheers could be heard as Monte Nicholas, tough cowboy and co-owner of Rockin’ N, held the American flag for the playing of the Star Spangled Banner while seated on his trusty gelding, Gus. This may sound perfectly normal, only Monte had shed his red western shirt and Carhart vest for a bright pink bikini top accessorized, of course, with his black Stetson, Wrangler’s, and cowboy boots. All to show his support for Carolyn and Breast Cancer Awareness. I’d never seen anything like it. Most men would run the other way at the mere mention of it. Not Monte. He put a smile on his face and graciously galloped into the indoor arena, flag waving to our national anthem, as multiple cameras and cell phones came out and his bikini-wearing ride was recorded for various social media pages. It was all for Carolyn.
Perspective #3: Real men will wear pink to show their support for the great women in their life.
L to R: Family dining in pink; Carolyn's son, Sean, and my daughter, Sydney; It's all about pink accessories.

As the competition started, it was fun watching each horse and rider prepare for their go as they waited in the hole. Most horses were adorned in pink. One of Rockin’ N’s students was using a stencil to paint pink ribbons on horses. Pink feather boas were wrapped around breast collars and streaks of pink were added to manes and tails. A few female riders braved the cold day to don bikini tops. Young and old, fast and slow participated. All of their entry fees went to support Carolyn. One of the most enthusiastic competitors was Ryan. In his early twenties, he is a special needs individual who reminded me a lot of my youngest daughter, Mackenzie. Ryan, in addition to competing in the gaming events, made and donated beaded key fobs to sell to those in attendance with all the proceeds going to Carolyn. He was there with his mom, Robin, and his horse, Dealer. Together, he and his older bay gelding made quite the impressive team. At the end of his last ride, Ryan whipped his cowboy hat off and let out with a loud yeehaw! It brought tears to my eyes. Happy tears. Earlier, I'd had a chance to speak with Ryan and he told me all about his new apartment, his roommate, and his girlfriend. I loved hearing how he was leading his own, independent life. It gave me hope for Mackenzie's future.  
L to R: My buddy, Ryan, removing his cowboy hat for the national anthem; Dealer and Ryan after their first go; A hardy yeehaw for a job well done.

When events were done and times consulted, placings were announced. Carolyn, her husband, Ron, and their two sons, Sean and Seth, gathered in the center of the indoor arena as competitors and organizers formed around them for pictures. I always love those Kodak moments. Lou, our master of ceremonies, had the first place winners, from each event, line up together before being sent on a mad dash for the donated prize table items. Many of which were horse-related goodies! What better trinket to take away for horse owners than horse-related goodies? Each subsequent placings were treated to the same dash to the prize table.
Perspective #4: Life’s ultimate prize is the feeling of accomplishment one receives from being a part of something that helps someone else.
L to R: Jenna Orcutt and her dog, Montana sporting the pink; donated prize table; Tammy selling Breast Cancer Awareness clothing.

The lunch break was announced and everyone dug in to all of the wonderful food that was brought in as a dish to pass. Monte grilled burgers and hot dogs and multiple tables were filled with crock pots set on warm, picnic salads, chips, and baked goods. (God bless the person who brought the tray of Almond Joy cookie bars!) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: horse community folks know how to picnic! I contributed a big container of cowboy caviar and tortilla chips. I thought my choice was apropos.
Perspective #5: Breaking bread with friends feeds the soul.
L to R: It's all about friends--Syd and Jessica Sheeley with Jess' AQHA Hunter Under Saddle horse, Manly Man; standing: Shannon Rightmire, Sydney, Courtney Woodward, Nate Perry, and on horseback, Abby Minard on Smartie; Nancy Nicholas (co-organizer) and Mackenzie.

After lunch, competitors could try their hand at the trail challenge. Carolyn’s specialty. An obstacle course was set up inside the indoor arena to test the skills of each horse and rider. Not only was there a maximum time limit of five minutes set for the challenge, but Christina Wilson-Thomas served as judge. It was her job to ensure contestants completed each trail challenge task and followed the rules. Ron told my husband and me that Carolyn loves to watch this type of event because it really tests the abilities of both horse and rider and shows the partnership between them. Carolyn and Reno were the first to go---and show everyone how it is done. It didn’t matter how quick contestants were or how many of the obstacles they conquered, every spectator joined in to cheer them on.
Perspective #6: Life is full of challenges and we can either chose to give up or meet them head on. Horse people choose to meet them head on.
L to R: Mosher Strong with Seth, Carolyn, Ron, and Sean; My favorite pic of the day as Ron wraps his arms around Carolyn; Trail Judge Christine, Organizer Hilary, Carolyn, and Organizer Jean.

 When I got home from Barrels & Bikinis, I uploaded my pictures to Facebook. I couldn’t help but smile at the memories made—and as a family with our horse community family. Even though the weather managed to keep some folks at home, the event drew thirty competitors and raised $1,200.00. As I reflected about the event, this was my Facebook post the following day:

Those of you who've known me for a long time, know I've never been much of a hugger. In fact, with some of you, I've kindly reminded you about my personal space bubble. Even gave you a visual of the 18" zone around me that was "my space." Okay. Maybe not so kindly. I've never been good at offering consolation to others. Pats on the back and gentle there-theres. I don't know why, but every time one of my college or high school employees at Wilson's Leather broke up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or had a loved one pass away, they were working with me when it happened. I was a fish out of water. I guess God has a sense of humor and likes putting us in places where we need the most work. My Divine on-the-job experiences were in empathy and kindness. Having children helped speed up my experiences. At the end of Barrels & Bikinis yesterday, I found myself seeking out our friends to say goodbye and I offered hugs first. It comes so naturally now that I don't think anything of it. I was around three fantastic ladies, each in various stages of fighting cancer, and they were perfect examples of living life for the moment while appreciating everything and everyone. Thanks for the great talk yesterday, Patty Minard.

The look of contentment: Carolyn and Reno. Photo by Patty Minard
At one point, during the event, I looked over at Carolyn. She was sitting astride Reno, elbow on her saddle horn, leaning forward to rest her chin on her hand, and she was smiling. Smiling. Even though she’d had a rough week (learned she’d lost her job and suffered a minor injury to her breastbone on top of the normal day to day grind with battling cancer,) Carolyn was the picture of contentment. Because of everything she’s been through, she has learned to savor each moment, taking it all in, and be grateful for the opportunity—a lesson we all need to learn.


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