VIRGINIA CITY — Often during the long, hot summers of putting up hay, my dad would change the game plan. Instead of driving tractors in the endless circles of swathing, raking or baling alfalfa, we’d wrangle the horses and spend the day working cattle.
Although it was arguably a tougher job, my dad preferred any task done horseback.
“You just have to let your heels hang down,” he’d say.
Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to the International Camel and Ostrich Races in Virginia City. The daily drudgery of the desk needs to be broken up.
After 13 years, I’ve learned some important life lessons behind the hump of a camel. Here are some of them.
Trust your instincts.
Before racing, stock contractor Joe Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm, huddles with jockeys behind the arena.
That’s after you sign a waiver saying you understand racing camels is a “dangerous activity in which a participant may suffer serious bodily, psychological and neurological injury, or death.”
Hedrick reminds riders they can change their mind any time before the chute gate opens.
“If you want to back out, it’s not too late,” he said. “We won’t make fun of you. We’ll pat you on the back for making a good, solid decision. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”
It’s just as important in life to find your voice. If you don’t want to do something — if it just doesn’t feel right — don’t do it. Change course. Get off the camel.
Julia Ratchey from KUNR rode a camel during Friday’s annual Media Grudge Match. She described it as trying to ride “a sack of sweet potatoes on a treadmill.”
As such, the instinct can be to lean forward and grip tightly to the front bar of the camel saddle. That’s a bad strategy because it throws off your balance, leaving your arms to hold you on the camel while the rest of your body bounces every which way.
The best approach is to sit mostly upright, keep your knees in front of you and go with the flow.
Let go of what can seem like security. Trust your own strength.
Winning isn’t everything.
Some years I’ve won. Others I’ve lost. They all run together now. In fact, on Friday, I won one match and came in second in the next.
I can’t say one was better than the other.
Except, as I write this, I know that’s not entirely true. It’s always better to win. So try to win, but, if you don’t, then just enjoy the ride.
Which brings me to my last point …
Enjoy the ride.
After all the warnings of possible death or getting pooped on (that’s actually in the waiver), freelance travel rider Tanja Laden was undeterred.
“What a way to go,” she said. “If I die on a camel, I want that on my tombstone. It would make for an interesting obituary at least.”
Life is short, the camel race is short, just have fun with it.
Let your heels hang down.