Book Excerpt: Finding My Way Clear

This excerpt from Many Brave Fools by Susan E. Conley is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (

In this excerpt from Many Brave Fools, recovering codependent Susan Conley faces a jump course that could be the beginning of the rest of her life.

I was going to do the best I could, and I was not going to miss that fifth fence this time round. We walked the course, and Delilah was grooving, her head down and bobbing. There was Fence Number Five, green and white poles. There it is, I said to myself.

“Hey,” I said aloud to Delilah. “That’s Number Five.” She flicked an ear at me and snorted.

I watched a few of the little girls jump their rounds, just to get the rhythm of the course, to see what it looked like, what it might feel like. While we waited, Delilah pinned her ears back at every opportunity, and at one stage started dancing backward. Someone from the ground called out helpful advice, and I walked Delilah around in circles behind the horse trailers lined up along the C end of the arena. It dawned on me that it would be good to get going, to not make her stand and wait any longer, so when Padraig called out, “Who’s next?” I replied, “Me!” We passed the exiting rider; Delilah made a nasty face at the horse.

I don’t really remember jumping that course, the last Saturday of The League. It was eight fences, and if you went clear, you did the first six over again. So, there was the first fence at F, and then the second and third were at a related distance at X, then it was over to the fourth fence at E, then back around to F for the line into a double combination at X for Fence Number Five, then eeeeeeeeeeeeeek, a tight turn at H around to six at M, where the first fence became the seventh, and the fourth fence became the eighth.

Photo by Eugene Chystiakov

I do remember Delilah shaking her bum and trying to take off as we trotted large around the arena, and how I thought, Well, if she’s hot, she’ll be strong and get us over the fences, and then I decided, No, I want to ride this properly. I sat back, determined not to let her get out of hand. I do remember that I was still worried about that effing fifth fence and that I was thinking, Oh, God, I am bouncing around like a sack of potatoes, so I sat back more fully. We must have jumped the effing fifth fence because the next thing I knew we were coming around the turn at H, heading for the sixth and hearing another of my lesson pals call encouragement. I remember going over six and looking ahead and thinking, Oh, there’s seven! and feeling surprised by it.

When I landed after the eighth fence, I heard Padraig call, “Clear round!” and so I just kept going, doing the first six over again. As I came around to fence number four, I felt myself losing my left stirrup, and I put more weight in the right stirrup and wiggled my foot to keep the left. I thought, Holy !@#$, I think we may make it…

And then suddenly we were sailing over the final fence. The minute we landed, the cheers erupted—friends, lessonmates, teachers, spectators. I felt like my whole body was my heart, beating and beating and full of pure, unadulterated joy.

It was not simply about having gone double clear (although that was pretty spectacular). It was not about winning or looking good in public. It was not about anything having to do with ego, even though you’d think it was kind of all about that. No, my joy came from the pure action that had occurred in the arena, intrinsic via instincts that I had learned: I had learned to ride. I had learned to pay attention. I had learned to communicate clearly. I had learned to not worry about doing a whole thing at once but to do it one step, one stride, one jump at a time. I had learned to look up, to be aware, to contain what needed containing in a manageable way, and to flow forward without fear. This was the triumph of the present moment, of true connection with another being, and in that connection, gaining access to every single pure, beautiful thing in the world, all the way up to God.

Dare I say it? It was completely holy. We can use the term as it relates to all things higher and more powerful, and we can also use it is as it refers to wholeness, to having been made complete. Everything came together in that series of moments, and I was completely and totally there, without trying too hard, without trying hard at all. I did a thing I had never ever imagined myself doing in the whole of my life, and if that is not a miracle, then I don’t know what is.

I whispered to Amy, “Do you think I get a ribbon?”

When the names were called to come forward for the prize-giving, mine was one of them, and I waded through all the little girls like Gulliver.

I tucked the prize carefully into my pocket, and whenever anyone so much as said the word “ribbon,” I’d slip my hand in and make sure it was still there.

There it is, I assured myself. There’s mine. I had done it. I had gone clear.

Pick up your copy of Many Brave Fools from Trafalgar Square books HERE.