When I was 12 years old, my father brought home the most gorgeous Shetland pony that I had ever seen. He was a “Golden Shetland” Stallion and a Grand Champion. I was not aware of his exact division in which his “status” as grand champion was achieved. It turned out to be a very limited category. He looked great. Small girls rode around him without a care for safety or security. He loved to be fed, brushed, hugged and in general having a fuss made over him.

Since I was the eldest, Dad permitted me to be the first to ride him. He was led into the corral we used for breaking our horses. His gait was amazing. I had no trouble climbing aboard. However, as soon as my father stepped back, this amazingly beautiful animal transformed into a devil. In a matter of seconds, I was bucked off into the center post, knocking all existing air from my now nearly dead body. Okay, maybe not dead, but to a 12 year old it was certainly thought of as close. When I finally gathered my wits about me, that “beast” stood there smiling at me. Yes, I said smiling. A self-satisfied grin that I am told is impossible for any horse to make. But that “thing” was only masquerading as a horse.

As if to prove that point, my Dad even climbed aboard some weeks later to show me how it was done. The devil again pranced serenly for about twenty steps. Then, took off like a shot through a barbed wife fence, my Dad not so securely on board. His comments that day were much like my own the first time I rode that devil. Not printable.

That is when I learned the history of the beast. He was the horse you see at every Rodeo that cannot be ridden by ANY young man. A Grand Champion “Bucking” Pony. Used to demoralize young would-be riders. Their failures superseded by some young child from the audience being placed on his back to prance unmolested about the arena. The offered prize money for being able to ride this demon (passing for a horse) safely tucked into the owner’s pocket.

Well, humiliation has come back to me over the years in many different forms. Pride often sneaks up on you when things begin to go well. Compliments provoking my own inner beast. Vanity sets in and I become a demon myself. My Dad provided the means of introducing me to humility.

While still in the depths of knowing it all (about 15), I decided to sit down and define how my life would be lived. Though I know my choices are not popular with everyone, they are mine to claim. I was the eldest, and expected to be an example to my brothers and sisters. While that position, instilled in me years earlier, there remained a lot of youthful decisions for which I would have to prepare. Not just decisions about whether to drink, smoke, or embrace promiscuity. My choices had to do with my siblings. Following rules expected in my household.

In growing up, I faltered some. Testing the limits of my freedom. Including my decision to practice the Martial Arts — against my parents wishes.

  • Mistake #1. Spending all my savings to take classes.
  • Mistake #2. Getting caught by going to class across town and locking myself out of my car. Trying to get inside to my keys, I broke the mirror. Another Mistake. I had to call home and have Mom drive out to unlock it with her key.

Dad let me have it when I would acknowledge people’s compliments of my actions by saying; “Yes, I know.” That was when he asked me who I thought I was. Not without a lot of yelling and mean looks. That is when he told me to go off and decide just who I was to become.

Sometimes we believe ourselves to be grown up, but fail to act like it. Maybe it is because in testing our limits, we don’t want to get caught until we find out whether it was “worth it?” We don’t want to look silly, or stupid, just figuring out who we are. Parents seem to think we will take their word for it. That mistakes will be avoided just because they said so. Then we are surprised to find they really did have some of the answers we sought. The hardest part (as a parent), is letting my kids make their own mistakes.

I decided early that I like the idea of rules and manners. Limits to conduct in public and private affairs. I believe in opening a door for a lady. Paying for meals shared together. Sending flowers, or providing candy — even as I definitely would want her to share it with me. 🙂 But I believe a woman is something more than a shorter version of a man, with obvious upgrades.

On another front, I believe that honor and respect are living forces. Reason, the means of recognizing mistakes before they occur and fear only coming from a lack of knowledge. I went to the library and checked out a book on etiquette. That’s why at 13; I was learning “how” to date, how to respect a woman. Definitely not the “rules” my hormones wanted me to seek. But enough to establish my belief in the sanctity of marriage. That children would come after marriage. And, that fidelity was an honor to bestow. But also, not to judge others for their choices differing from my own.

Today, there are many that grow up without a belief system. Without the structure of a two parent household. Or, find themselves in a household where personal selfishness keeps one parent or the other apart from the family. Whether intentional, or not, latch key children are left with few examples of who to be like.

I chose singing and speech programs at school in order to make myself face people. To speak while looking someone in the eye, where I could previously only look at the ground. I decided to use my money from selling our animals to train in the Martial Arts. Even without my parents knowledge. I chose to explore performing in all its avenues. Whether stage or screen, it didn’t matter. I chose to “do” something. To ready myself for deciding where my life would go. What I would do. Although this time I would include my family members to support my Black Belt advancement test.

In these days of video game prominence, diversions of drugs and sexual experimentation at the youngest levels, my principles of being an example to my family remained. Realizing that peer pressure comes from those you love as well as those with which we go to school, work, sports, or leisure activities. I chose to set my own rules before the challenge came up. It remains important our children learn essential traits like Character, Integrity, Responsibility, Bravery, Sympathy, Morality, and even common Manners. We must turn to surrogates if we cannot make the time to teach this ourselves.

Our children have pressures. They have needs. They want a guidebook. One with rules that makes it easier to grow up. Not in “telling” them what decisions to make. Rather providing them snippets of our lives where mistakes were made and triumph over ourselves finally made a difference. Then surrounding them with good people living good lives, making smart choices. Even sitting down with your kids for a few moments each day, letting them know how special they are. Answering the hard questions of life, before uncertainty causes harm.

Mistakes don’t have to be forever. Our failure to tell our kids the truth about our lives could cause them to withdraw from us, losing them forever. Especially if those choices cause harm to others.

Principles are things that one can count on when times are hard. They provide a constant in a sea of confusion. Principles are the “thing” you know to be right in the center of your very being. Never letting your standards fall for the sake of someone else’s false promises of greater freedoms. Freedom comes from standing by those heartfelt principles. Realizing that, just maybe, those watching you are waiting for your “example.” Hoping to find a kindred spirit in making “right” choices.

So, make the most of your life. You will still be there, rationalizing your decisions, when all others have disappeared. What then does their advice mean in the choices you make?

A beautiful looking pony just may have a demon hidden inside. Even if it appears to affect some, and not others, betrayal comes to you when least expected.