writing

The Small But Significant Things

Twelve days ago I rode my camp horse, Shadow, for the last time before camp ended. She’s a sturdy but small Tennessee Walking Horse, and she’s so delicate and fine-boned that I suspect she has some Arabian in her. Since I was the smallest person working at the barn, I got to be her exercise rider.

All summer, Shadow and I did a variety of things. We went on trail rides, rode bareback, worked over poles and did figure eights and other shapes around cones. A few times I rode without reins, attempting to steer her through balance and legs alone, but she didn’t take to it.

Well, twelve days ago I brought my younger sister to the barn to give her a little lesson on Shadow before the mare headed off to her winter home. Shadow hadn’t been ridden in a few days and had decided she no longer cared to listen to the rider on her back.

I was in shorts and giant Muck boots, but I told my sister to hop off and I’d hop on to give Shadow a firm reminder of who was in charge here (she and I often have debates on this point). My boots were too big to fit into the stirrups without getting jammed, so I crossed the stirrups over the saddle in front of me and rode that way.

That little change, riding with my legs hanging long, completely changed my seat – the way I sit in the saddle, the way my balance was distributed, everything. Up until that day, Shadow and I always had trouble maintaining a trot for more than a few strides, but just for kicks I gave it a try.

She trotted perfectly. Letting my legs hang long gave me a much deeper seat, and I was able to sit the trot comfortably and easily.

If you aren’t familiar with what trotting, sitting a trot, stirrups, reins, saddle, etc. are, all of that may not have made much sense to you. In a nutshell, I changed a small but significant thing about how I was riding Shadow, and I got tremendous results on a problem I’d been struggling with.

I’ve had the same kind of success with writing. While I was editing Summer Rush, there were two characters who were giving me a lot of trouble. One, in particular, I hated so much that every time I had to write a chapter with him in it, I’d procrastinate and whine and moan. On a whim, I decided to combine the two characters into one. It ended up giving me one character I really liked. He ended up being integral in the story line.

A lot of times it’s easy to become fixated on the big things. In trying to deal with Shadow and my trotting problem, I could have tried changing the equipment we were using or having someone put her on a lead and drag her into a trot. In writing, I could have fiddled with those two characters forever, trying to turn them both into someone useful and entertaining.

But sometimes the simple fix is the best one.

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