“Right there, keep holding the reins that tight. Don’t pull, but don’t weaken. Keep holding, keep steady!” I can so clearly recall my dad encouraging me from his horse, just 15 feet away.
I was horseback a younger colt, and my own emotion and physical wear from the day’s activities were starting to get to me. Dad knew it was important that the ride end on a good note, for both students – the colt, and the horsewoman.
“I know your arm is tired, but your horse is about to learn something. Get ready. He’s almost there…” Dad continued to chant on, until finally, “Release!”
My arm had grown weary, but the minute my horse picked up his front foot and softened his neck, I felt exactly what dad was hoping I’d be able to feel. The colt’s hip dropped beneath me with his hind end disengaging, as he yielded beautifully to my pressure. In that given moment, release was revered by my horse, my dad, and myself.
The art of horsemanship requires communication through mere pressure and release movements. It’s a phenomenon that you can’t quite describe without sincere exaggeration and various metaphors. Those that have been fortunate enough to sit horseback in a thoughtful manner know the experience I’m talking about. Thankfully, as the children of the best horseman I’ve ever met, my brother and I have come to know this experience well.
My dad used horsemanship to instill in us that there is a recipe for success. A unique, and ever evolving combination of awareness, presentation, empathy, patience, diligence, consistency, a willingness to try and an inclination to ask, “why not?” are each an ingredient critical for personal growth. When used as the building blocks of horsemanship, we find a glorious, exhilarating thrill as we spend a lifetime craving the “pressure and release” approach to problem solving and learning alongside our horses.
And, every once in a while, life has a funny way of reversing our role in the pressure-release scenario; applying pressure in our own lives that we can either ignore, or give way to, exploring all that the growth of release has to offer.
The list that my dad has excelled at goes far beyond horsemanship and dynamite-fathering. In every hat he’s worn, he’s dreamt of solutions that create a better future for agriculture. A world where farmers and ranchers experience a system’s wide appreciation for the grueling work they are doing; where working with mom and dad on the ranch is financially feasible; where producers again feel valued as the most important stakeholder in our food systems; where “receiving a premium” isn’t merely a pipe dream for the vast majority of producers, where quality stewardship and community-spirited management are again at the forefront of the industry.
Over the past two years, Dad’s become known for using every platform in his time as the IAC’s Executive Director to center conversation around the current issues of ag credit. He has proposed solutions with our ag producers in mind; defining just what “more equitable access to lending” truly means, while preparing a comprehensive, re-imagination of what ag finance should look like for all of America.
It comes as no surprise to me that the world’s been feeling his steady pressure in his efforts. He’s remained diligent as a student of the topic, consistently aware of the needs, and eager to present solutions. Empathizing with just how out of touch our current system is, he’s exemplified patience in his commitment to being a part of the solution.
And the world is finally giving way to that pressure. He’ll now be able to use his recipe for success as the newest Administrator of the Farm Service Agency. This first-of-its-kind appointment could not be more fitting, and I have full trust in my father’s ability to share a long overdue perspective in his new role.
He’ll accept the position (not afforded to many), and serve with intention, focus, and enthusiasm. His personality will invite collaboration, his passion will ignite change, and his experiences will contribute diversity. His sacrifice will inspire those that he’s helped in the past and it will ease a little of the selfish - but very real - heartbreak I feel knowing I’ll be expected to share my father with so many people for such a long time.
There’s no doubt that his career thus far has been time spent in the round corral: teaching us about the importance of groundwork, so that come performance day, the foundation is solid. Just like he does as a teacher in the round corral, I expect he’ll share some of the most skilled, highly refined maneuvers in uplifting the Agency through his leadership. He will contribute to all of those that have come before him in a manner that alleviates the burden for those to come after.
I truly could not be more proud, more inspired, or more anxious for all the greatness that is to come. Following in one’s footsteps, working in their shadow, or riding behind them; we learn the techniques of horsemanship from our idols by mimicking their poise and trying to interpret their intention.
Our time is here to rise up to the challenge, just like my dad has, in carrying such important work forward. It’s our turn to chant from the sidelines, “don’t weaken, keep holding, steady pressure,” as our inspirational leader and trusted teacher takes his post in serving the United States Department of Agriculture.