Grasping the Power of Forgiveness

A Journey on Horseback
Neglected. Unwanted. Abused. Rejected. Or perhaps someone just couldn’t afford the costs associated with responsible caregiving. That information, of course, remains confidential. Beautiful. Strong. Need-full. Like us all. I met REO on a summer day at her home, Double 00 Farm, near Tuskeegee Creek, just outside Robbinsville in Western North Carolina. What follows is how she carried me farther than I could have imagined.

The air was thick, capped by a Carolina blue sky turned gray, glazed like fragile pottery by a dew point as high as the Cheoah Mountains between Cody and Cable Gaps. (Gaps are similar to passes, but more rugged and difficult to navigate. Rough rows to hoe, as my Granny might say.) That July morning, pale yellow light broke through the trees hanging low over South Forth Branch. It was hot in a way I remember from the Decoration Days of my childhood, the kind of heat that’s wet enough to curl blonde hair, even if Granny hadn’t rolled it with biting-tight pink curlers the night before. The kind of heat that makes you glad to be near a creek, even if wearing your Sunday clothes and trying to be seen and not heard.

That day I wore a cowboy hat I bought at the Grand Ole Opry store in Nashville and my best boots – prepared, I thought, for my first time on horseback. I heard nothing but good things about Annette Ensley and the women’s riding clinics she teaches to support the horse rescue at Double 00 Farm. Finally, I cultivated the courage to ask her to teach me the basics of riding in a one-on-one session. She agreed. So. There I was, in the mountains where Granny was born, attempting to grasp Annette’s instructions as she saddled a brown and white pinto mare for me. REO.

Life can be like that, grasping or trying to grasp. First we grasp air into our lungs and expel it in a cry, a hello from the other side, so to speak. That mastered, we grasp for sustenance from bottle or breast, instinctively knowing we need calories to grow. We grasp No. 2 pencils to write letters, spell our names. We grasp that 2+2=4 and that to add numbers up is how the world loves to define our purpose: 2+2, ad infinitum. Grasping and adding through seasons and years, winter’s cold and summer’s heat, spring and fall, we journey through the valleys and mountains of life with open-yet-closing hands, holding on firm for precious life to what we think we need. But in all this reaching out and seizing, it’s sometimes the things we can’t grasp – or can barely grasp – that flash before us and show us the way, even if it’s a way across rough rows and wide gaps.

To grasp that kind of trust is to un-grasp just about everything else.

I can’t grasp how I ended up there on that mountainside with REO and Annette and all the women who walked those mountain paths before us, somehow. Or how, when I tried to hoist myself onto REO’s back, I could hear Granny saying, “Girl, can’t never could, so do.” Or how when I looked into Annette’s eyes and said, I’m afraid I’ll fly plumb over her, and she said: “You won’t because I’m here with you,” I could hear Granny’s mother saying: “Never fear a thing so much that you can’t try.” To sit on REO’s back and let her carry me, I had to learn the healthy art of un-grasping, the release of open hands.
To grasp that kind of trust is to un-grasp just about everything else. When we learned to grasp all those things in our early lives, numbers and letters, sustenance and air, we also learned to protect our hands and what they hold. If life is about grasping what we need, we need gloves and guards to buffer what is vulnerable in us.

Before I could learn to rely on REO, she had to learn to rely on Annette and on the team of volunteers at Double 00. It’s work they all take seriously, changing lives, transforming their mountain community, one horse, one rider at a time.
Every horse that comes to this place teaches me a little something, Annette told me. And they give me a piece of them. They teach me something new because every horse is different; every horse has its own personality. And when they leave here, they take a piece of me with them. The same is true for the people who come here. And it’s a fair trade.

I said I heard voices on the back of that horse, in those mountains. I heard Annette’s voice, saying trust. I heard REO nickering softly, calm and sure. But I also heard other voices, promises that couldn’t be kept, echo across years and miles to that July morning.
How do you forgive a broken promise? I’ve never been able to grasp the answer. Until I met Annette. Until I met REO.

REO, like the other rescue horses at Double 00 Farm, is there because someone broke a promise to her. Some horses Annette and her husband Carroll rescue through Double 00 are so damaged, they can only graze in peace, beautiful in their remote mountain refuge, for the rest of their lives. But through Annette’s love and care, REO is an ambassador for all horses at Double 00. Rescued herself, REO teaches people like me what it means to go on, to find and fulfill a calling, in the face of hurt, disappointment, rejection, abandonment, fear. REO stands for the best that grace and forgiveness can be: moving forward, in spite of the brokenness encountered in others and in yourself. On that July morning, REO was strong enough to move me forward. So is forgiveness, as long as I can open my hand around the hard stones I’ve learned to grasp and sling them away, where they can’t hurt me or anyone else.

If REO could talk, like the donkey of old, she might say what Granny and her mother said: TRY.

I’ll never be able to grasp how easy it was to allow REO to carry me, holding me up with her strength, my eyes closed as Annette talked me through those first few moments of quiet trust. Familiar humidity a blanket around me, a melody from the south fork of Tuskeegee Creek underscoring that moment, I was able to let something go, something that had coiled tight in my soul, rattling. Funny how I couldn’t hear it until I discovered REO’s strength, but from REO’s back I looked down and gave it permission to slither away, chasing stones, into the dark underbrush of the creek. And, somehow, that hot July day, I grasped what it means to rely on someone else, without fear, and that there is purpose after hurt, after rejection, after healing. That forgiveness, at least in part, is taking the hurt you’ve experienced, unfolding your hands, and re-working it for the good of others. REO – and Annette’s Double 00 Farm – and the beautiful mountains I’ll always call home, where good things thrive – gave me that gift.

Founded in 2007 by Annette and Carroll Ensley in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Double 00 Farm gained 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 2015 and specializes in equine rescues. The Farm is home to 28 horses, plus chickens, turkeys, rescue cats, and a passel of Large Black Heritage Hogs. The Farm offers individual and group riding lessons, training clinics, special Farm Days for children, and team building retreats, which support the rescue of horses throughout the region. Find the Farm on Facebook @Double00Farm.

Amanda Wood Williams, a writer in Nashville, TN, relies on strength, joy and wisdom passed down by seven generations of mountain women – her mother, her granny, Ma Etta Cable, Mother Rettie Elliott, Mariah Crisp Cable, Louisa Taylor Cable, Elizabeth Jones Cable and Elizabeth Baker Cable. When not writing, Amanda eats barbecue with her husband, pulls for the Alabama Crimson Tide, cans hot green tomato pickles and/or learns to fly fish.

Written by Amanda Wood Williams