Opportunity Knocks

Susan J. Baumgaertel, MD shares a story that helps us redefine “exercise” and think about it more as “movement” that can be a valuable experience, fun, and even inspiring.

Most of us do not wish to relive our childhood.

Yet, here I am, asking you to go way back and reminisce about the activities you did when you were young. Skating? Hopscotch? Hide and seek?

I remember after school we came home and played outside until dark or dinner, whichever came first.

No phones, no computers, no iPads, no personal video games…fun times! Playing meant something active, and usually outside.

So many people have lost touch with the activities they once enjoyed.

Instead, they gripe and grind at the gym or the club, waiting to be done and sit in the sauna or sip a latte. I think it is time to reconnect with our past and rediscover the fun parts of exercise.


So many people have lost touch with the activities they once enjoyed. Instead, they gripe and grind at the gym or the club, waiting to be done and sit in the sauna or sip a latte. Click To Tweet


One such opportunity came up for me on a business trip to Denver in 2018.

It was my first time in Colorado, and I was eager to do something other than sit in a convention ballroom listening to lectures. So, I checked out the local area recreation offerings and found the perfect thing: horse riding in the Rockies.

When I was young, I spent many weekends riding English-style on horseback with a friend who had horses on a farm. I learned that cleaning tack was not fun, so we mostly rode bareback. I have vivid memories of jumping snowdrift-covered fences (bareback!) and going for long rides all over the countryside and adjacent farmlands. Another memory is of riding Western-style in the badlands of North Dakota in Roosevelt National Park with just one guide, a very cute nineteen-ish boy. We crested a butte and skirted around a herd of wild buffalo with the lead male standing sentry on the crest; we rode with the coyotes running alongside our cantering steeds; we meandered back to the barn by sunset. Happiness.

So, of course, why not conjure up those wonderful memories? I set out in my rental car early in the morning, hoping to beat the 102-degree heat that Denver was offering for the day. I printed out a map ahead of time as the cell signals vanished as advertised the further into the foothills I drove. I finally located the barn, parked, and was immediately greeted by a friendly cat. A good omen!

My horse was Spice and seemed frisky and ready to go. The other guide was also Susan, and rode a sweet appaloosa named Ace. Just the two of us, me in the lead.


My horse was Spice and seemed frisky and ready to go. The other guide was also Susan, and rode a sweet appaloosa named Ace. Just the two of us, me in the lead. Click To Tweet


The terrain and surrounding mountain scenes were gorgeous. The temperature was a balmy low eighties with a lovely breeze. We moved through forest, along drop-off cliffs, from scenic viewpoints to pasture and grassy trails. We finally came upon one of the oldest graveyards in the West Coast, Russel Gulch Cemetery. I noted that the second “l” was missing if it was named after nearby Russell Gulch, a mining town turned into ghost town. We dismounted, and suddenly Spice was a bit too frisky and in the process of lunging around her bit was broken. Yikes! You can’t really ride a horse with a broken bit.

Well, looking around we had noticed a bright red pickup truck parked nearby, nobody in sight. It was strange enough, as there were no roads in the area. It had a tool kit in the back. I decided to hold both horses while Susan went on into the cemetery to see if she could find the owner. It felt strangely surreal at this point – I recall thinking this would be a good movie trailer for an abduction or kidnapping, hah! Well, after a bit I heard voices coming from the trees and looked up to see Susan and an older man walking along the gravestones. They emerged and I shook hands with “Bill.” He rummaged through the tool kit in his pickup and we used his tools to jury-rig the bit into working order, good enough to get us going again.

Back in the saddle, we eventually worked our way towards the barn. When it appeared in the distance, we were riding by a dilapidated old shack that, to my surprise, was someone’s home. The “someone” was a weathered old man, working out in the back among some rusty equipment heaps, buck naked except for a tiny piece of leather in the most strategic part. We waved as we rode by. It turns out the cat lived there.

I was happy as a clam, said my goodbyes to Spice, and started the journey back to Denver. I had to follow the paper map in reverse as cell signals were still dead. Somehow, I made a wrong turn and ended up in Central City. Thirsty, I stopped and parked. It looked like some sort of street fair was in the works. I strolled through, bought a T-shirt souvenir for my daughter, sat down to rehydrate. Suddenly, gun shots rang out and being a city girl, I flinched and looked around. Nobody was running. Nothing had changed. At the end of the street I saw four gunslingers shooting it out to the death. A tourist attraction! Smiling, I got my picture taken with them. Did you know that old-fashioned pistols are super heavy?!

My adventure was SO much better than working out in the hotel gym or swimming laps in the hotel pool. I was so happy to reconnect with an activity from my youth that (amazingly) I can still do and enjoy. It was physically vigorous, mentally soothing, and emotionally uplifting. You can’t get that from thirty minutes on a treadmill.


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