I have no courage at all when compared to my granddaughter, Hannah. Oh, I put on a brave face (I mastered this ability many years ago) and prepared myself to be her biggest fan as she began her college rodeo experience this fall. But I can’t pretend it was easy for this city-turned-country grandmother.
At just eighteen, Hannah Rose O’Bryan is an accomplished horsewoman who has competed at the National Junior High and High School Rodeo Finals in New Mexico and Wyoming six times.
So, does she think of herself as “courageous”?
“Well,” Hannah says, smiling, “I never have time to think about courage…things happen so fast when you’re running barrels on the back of a 1,200-pound horse and having to make split-second decisions. You just do what you have to do—and think about being courageous later.”
But what I think is that Courage could easily be Hannah’s middle name. Raised on a farm and riding horses since she could barely walk has given her plenty of experience to develop courage—from being thrown off her horse while rounding a barrel going full-speed, to being goaded by a goat she was tying down in competition. After all, this is the 2013 State High School Barrel Racing champion we’re talking about. (And she was a valedictorian, to boot.)
As the seventy-two-year-old grandmother of Hannah Rose, I cannot help comparing the youthful joy of her courage to mine when I was her age. Unlike Hannah, I was raised a “city girl” who flourished being the center of attention as a rhythm band leader on the stage of the most historic theatre in my hometown (Paducah), or as a cheerleader on the football field during junior high, or speaking out on the debate team at my high school.
Real courage, however, didn’t come to me until I became a mother and a grandmother.
Somehow I survived getting my son and two daughters raised during the wild and wooly 1960s and ’70s. Since then, I have watched my granddaughter from the time she was tiny (much too tiny to be on that big horse, I thought!) gallop her way through practice after practice, until she became proficient in breakaway roping, goat-tying, barrel racing and pole bending. I must have a very strong heart, because there were many times I thought I would come apart, seeing her take a fall or get kicked.
The day she told me she was volunteering to be the KyHSRA student bull-riding event director, I had to struggle to keep from passing out.
But Hannah never flinches. She has proven her innate ability to conquer fear in many ways—such as when she delivered her first prayer over the loudspeaker in front of a large rodeo arena audience, or when she sang before the entire congregation at her local church, or when she judged hippology at the national FFA competition last year. She’s basically a shy, humble country gal who credits her “brave attitude” to being taught by her parents to do the very best she can—always.
And no matter how large or small the challenge might be, she believes in learning how, with every setback, to get up gracefully, dust herself off and continue until she achieves her goal. In 2009, this persistence led to Hannah being ranked 7th in the U.S., Australia and Canada in her goat-tying event.
“One of the best lessons I have learned from my rodeo experience is how to accept defeat and turn it into a learning tool—and to always be true to myself,” says Hannah.
This requires an inner strength that most of us never completely achieve, yet my teenage granddaughter is teaching it to us all.
As Hannah begins her college career, I muse upon the concept of “courage”— Hannah’s and my own—and it takes me back to the day when, after raising three children, I made the decision to go back to college to earn my degree in history and creative writing.
After surviving the traumatic experience of college registration day (this was long before computers) and finding myself in a classroom for the first time in decades, I began to wonder at my sanity! I was much older than the other students and, in most cases, older than my professors, too.
Did this take courage? You bet…but I didn’t realize at the time the amount of courage I must have summoned to take that life-changing step. Maybe there are “courage” genes that we aren’t aware of. Perhaps different levels of courage are hidden deep in our psyches. As Hannah said, sometimes you do what you have to do and think about courage later.
Hannah’s parents (my daughter Laurie and son-in-law Ernie) have instilled in their child a strength of character that I find amazing. Laurie has never met a stranger, and she has always been an animal lover. Ernie, raised on a farm by his widowed mother, was a competitive bronc rider throughout his high school days. He’s also Hannah’s rodeo coach.
Both her parents tend to be “Type A” personalities who love the land, their animals and country life. I, on the other hand, tend to function more from the left side of the brain, so I hope I have given Hannah a sense of creative courage to compliment the physical bravery her parents passed to her.
For both granddaughter and grandmother this journey continues…with a new path now being forged. College life has begun for Hannah. She’s at nearby Murray State University, majoring in pre-vet medicine, with her goal being acceptance into Auburn University for her doctorate. Because of her academic achievements, she has already received numerous scholarships toward helping her to realize her dream (she insists on paying for her education by herself), and she plans to continue to work in a nearby veterinary clinic until she completes her undergraduate work.
Meanwhile, I have become a very contented country “gentlewoman” in my retirement. I write. I absorb the peace and beauty of the land all around me. I enjoy being with family and rediscovering old friends who have a tendency to disappear over the years.
Life is good, and I feel blessed—especially on days when I can sit on the front porch swing with my constant companion, a feisty Jack Russell named Willie. Together, we marvel at nature.
I know the journey Hannah and I share will eventually call for the truest test of my courage—one that will be imposed on me the day she puts her horses in a trailer, loads her luggage in the truck, and takes off on her own to graduate school, so many, many miles from home.
Do I have courage enough to let her go? We’ll see. I may lack the physical courage of my granddaughter, but I like to think I have been a constant reinforcement for her brave outlook on life—at least I have to hope that’s true.
And I’ll try to remember that when the time comes.
Rosemary Miller has three children and two grandchildren. After 29 years working at the local university, she retired to pursue interests that include reading (at least two books a week), writing, producing a weekly church bulletin and teaching a ladies’ Sunday School class. She also loves and cares for her beloved dog, Willie— “a Jack Russell who mysteriously showed up at the edge of our woods one morning while I was grieving the loss of my 15-year-old chocolate lab, Angel.” And, not surprisingly, Rosemary is also committed to keeping up with her granddaughter’s activities on the college rodeo circuit.
Reprinted with permission from THE NOTEBOOK: A Progressive Journal about Women & Girls with Rural & Small Town Roots, a publication of GrassrootsWomenProject.org.