Half Broke Horse, Wild Women
Green Broke Rodeo
No matter how long and severe the winter is, Spring always comes.
Growing up, that could sometimes be hard to believe; my life’s limited span was offset by the timeline of short noir days of deep Montana winter. Winter could feel eternal. The winds would howl and drive mercilessly against cheeks and eyes and windows…unrelenting, unforgiving…uncaring that human life and hope might be tentatively hanging on by a thread in its path. But it was always the wind that brought the change of Spring, too.
In the first dawn, it would wake me…my covers would be pushed aside, and I would stretch my toes into the warmth of the room. My groggy brain would work to identify the indicators of change….and there it would be. The soft drip, drip, drip of the icicle melt and the gentle language of the Chinook. The ancient wind of change.
Then the speed of it came in great waves, everything awakening, everything alive, everything wild.
In this season, my brothers and I would hold our annual “Green Broke Rodeo.” Our horses, restless from the confines of snow and unridden for the season, would stampede the corral with nostrils flared, prancing, bucking, manes and tails flying. Green as the grass sprouting profusely in woods and meadows.
We would wager each other our egos to see who could stay on the longest till the blood would finally settle, and the horse would resign itself to the duty to which man has broken it for. Tamed, useful, in its place as it should be.
I have held onto the electricity of a green broke horse deep in my heart throughout my life. The way I felt its bare back and muscles under me…the twists and tosses; the unwillingness to settle, theneed for freedom, for space, for its own power. It would pass through them up into my body and rest in my heart, and I understood it. Even later in the summer, I would often climb up on their backs with nothing on them. Giving them a free head, gripping their mane and letting them run, their neck stretched, the pull of their stride. And I would be that too, wild woman, free-headed, half broke. That’s where we both belonged, borrowing from each other’s spirit.
It has taken a long winter of unlearning to remember that that is still where I belong. I grew up with an iron-handed father in a heavily stereotyped conservative culture. The tapes are deeply imprinted and filled with static around my place as a woman.
Some of them funny, like my grandmother, gripping my arm and shaking her head in dismay, “You’d be such a success, Heather, if you only went to charm school.” I laughed in absolute shock that something so absurd could actually exist, let alone be attended. “What would I learn there?” I giggled. “You could learn how to be a true lady. How to sit, how to walk, how to talk, how to hold your hands…”
I turn away from some of them, like my father cornering me in a stairwell, after an orchestra performance. He was livid that I wore a sleeveless, form-fitting, velour, floor-length dress. Hissing in my face, “when you came out on stage, I thought, that girl looks like a two-bit whore, imagine how horrified I was to realize that it was MY daughter.”
I worked for 18 years in a male-dominated professional career. Trying hard to keep my place, to make sure I didn’t ruffle feathers, to toe the line to minimize the politics, to minimize me. But it all would not do. For the Chinook will always come. It came in four blue eyes, four tiny pink hands, and two heartbeats that grew under my own. The great awakening of what I wanted to leave in this world. What I want the future to be. What I want to teach my children.
I cried the day I found out my twins would both be girls. I wasn’t sure I knew how to raise a girl. I had never really fit as one. I was always told I was too much. Too eager, too strong, too loud, too rough, too edgy, too…everything. Wild woman.
But now, I know…all that is power. My children opened my Spring. I look at my girls and I see the depth of their ability, the strength of their hearts, the masterful talents of their body and minds, and I think, “they are limitless.”
To be a woman is beyond containment, which is why it scares the world so much. We cannot control what we cannot contain. We build walls, and boxes, descriptions, and stereotypes. We reinforce them with expectations, guilt, and pressure; we try so hard to break their spirits. We break our own spirits sometimes, so we can fit. So we belong.
On my hip, where I carried my babies, is inked into my skin. “Emmeline and Elizabeth…they are my reasons.” I have run unrealistic distances so they know they can do “impossible things.” I havesought to challenge dependence and consumerism, teaching them self-reliance and ability. I have grown and created with my hands to nurture their knowledge. I have immersed them in simplicity and free-form learning to protect them from the patterning of culture. I have fought for survival even after I felt I could not fight anymore. I have tried to give them their head and let them borrow my spirit. I do not always succeed. But they are teaching me, in their authentic innocence, that the fall and the rise is part of the journey too.
I asked them the other day what they thought a woman was. There was a long silence, and I prayed that I hadn’t failed them; I prayed my own gremlins hadn’t snuck into their vulnerable paradigms. “Strong,” Ellie said. “Brave,” Emmie chirped. And I smiled, deep inside. Feeling a half broke horse rising, opening up to the wind and the power of its created purpose, to be wild to be free.
“Yes,” I said. “And you are women.” Wild women.