Following a great training session, I bent down to remove the splint boots from my horse’s legs. As I loosened the fasteners I thought to myself, “I need to call Joanne. She would really love to hear about this.” Thirty years of doing something becomes a habit. I had forgotten for a brief moment, as I sometimes do, that back in May I had lost my longtime friend and mentor. I stopped when the realization hit me. Oh. Grief is sneaky like that. Even if you are well past the initial shock and feel as if you have made peace with it, it can come upon you at the most unexpected of moments.
During a recent trip to I had the opportunity to think about Joanne a lot. The flight she had taken while she was ill to be near her sister closely mirrored my own flight path. Her last months in a long-term care facility where her failing health, owed largely to years of neglecting her personal wellbeing, finally got the best of her. During those months, every couple of weeks, her sister had been kind enough to allow us time on the phone.
Despite a mind addled with dementia, she always knew me. We could always talk about horses. I had intended to visit her in June while attending a conference held near where she stayed but sadly I lost her before that. Reflecting on this experience made me think to share what I have learned, over the years, from my relationships with different mentors and what you can learn too.
Joanne was not my first mentor nor was she my last but she did teach me many things for which I am grateful. She provided inspiration for me both before and after her death. Joanne was not a perfect mentor and no one should enter a mentor/mentee relationship should expect them to be.
If you have read my book you know that the last chapter of Joanne’s life was not a happy one. Sadly, some of the lessons she taught me during this time were not positive ones and weren’t always reminiscent of better times. Particularly tough, I learned how end of life decisions should not be made. However, in the good times, just one of the lessons I learned from her was how to handle stallions and broodmares. In addition, I got see the results of generations of breeding decisions. I learned about nutrition for breeding animals. I improved my horse handling skills. I carry these skills with me to this day.
Before Joanne I had an aunt who basically gave me my start. I learned most of my horse handling skills from her. These included everything from cleaning stalls to first aid to starting young horses. After Joanne, there was my equestrian team coach at MTSU and my advisor in the Horse Science program there. I have a close friend who also fills the mentor role quite nicely today. There have been others too who, formally and informally, played smaller though still important roles.
We need mentors, all of us. They push us, teach us, and bolster us. Without them I would not be where I am today. I still seek out my old mentors and try to find new ones too. If you don’t yet have a mentor you should find someone who is willing to pay it forward by bringing someone else along. Their presence in our lives augments our formal education in unexpected ways. I promise, if you find the right match, you won’t regret it.