I had come from a long struggle (health-wise) and the struggle was not resolved and found myself with some free time. To occupy that time, I learned how to surf the net. I came across a post that advertised " The Lakota Ride " a Ride of Reconciliation. A 400-mile horse ride to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. I thought to myself, I'm Lakota, I like horses, I even have ties to that Reservation (I was pretty sure). The post advertised horses, food, in & outdoor lodging (camping). With a strict adherence to Lakota codes of value and spirituality. Also, it would take a week at least just to get to Cheyenne Wyoming and That was only a little over an hour's drive away. So, I figured I could always come home?
So, I reached out and got in contact with Dave Ventimiglia, the CEO of the Tipi Raisers. We met at a small 4- or 5-acre open lot adjacent to a greenbelt alongside a fairly busy street (South Kipling Rd). there was a small ramshackle open stable and a part of the lot was fenced off. In the open section there was a large horse trailer, 2 horses and Dave himself.
After introductions I was enlightened to the organization and to this particular event. I learned that this was the beginning prep work for the third Lakota Ride. I gathered the impression that help and support was much needed and would be appreciated. We had a small lesson in horsemanship and then rode for a few miles through a park, school and neighborhood. We talked about the organization and why this event was needed. I talked about my previous experiences with horses. It being just a photo op at a 6-year old’s Birthday party and a 2-mile crash down a mountain track on a runaway horse. Holding on like a frightened monkey until being rescued by my older Brother (probably more on that later). On our return trip to the horse stables there was some construction by the gate and we thought it best to dismount and walk the horses the rest of the way. That's when the saddle and I decided to see what the bottom of the horse looked like .... Luckily for me I simply stepped off (sort of) and landed on my feet. Even Luckier the horse, Eshna, and I decided to remain friends, much to Dave's relief. Upon our return, we said our " Doc-sha's " (until we meet again) with promises of signed waivers and medical clearances
On our second meetup, I had the needed paperwork in hand and after saddling the horses (a requirement to be a rider) I parked my ride next to a hay bale, climbed on and we were off. Looking down at Dave’s saddle I noticed a lariat that wasn't there before. After the "almost" fiasco at the end of the last meetup and the story I told, I asked if it was for me? He got serious, and then we laughed, we both saw the truth in it. We started working up to a fast trot and Dave was ready for a gallop. I pulled up on the reins and did my best to look like I knew what I was doing to stop. Dave quickly spun around and wanted to know if anything was wrong (my ability to be a rider was still not set in stone)? I told him I just wanted to make sure I knew how to stop before I learned how to run! Along the way I told Dave that I had a commercial driver’s license and was more than willing to help out in any way that I could. That got me to the third meetup.
About 10 days later I met Dave for the third time along with his son Adam in a parking lot with a big truck, horse trailer and a rental car with plans of caravanning up to the reservation to pick up horses and Lakota Tribal members (Elders, Singers, other riders and some of their family members that will travel with the Ride). That's how I found myself at 6:30-ish in the morning at the top of Lookout Mountain overseeing 5 strange horses feeling a little inadequate of the title of " Horse Watcher “. At a set time all of the people and horses gathered together and with Words, Prayer’s, Songs and Ceremony, the 2017 3rd annual Lakota Ride was off!! After driving the trailer and eating lunch I got the opportunity to get on one of those " unknown horses named " Wicahpi " to finish out the day. I parked my ride next to a fence and climbed on. I was far from sure that I would be able to handle the rigors of such a journey but I didn't want to Not ride a bit of it. Being new to riding and more than a bit nervous I found that you still have time for contemplation. So, while I was all clenched and knotted up I was convincing myself that " Me " being on this trip was " Reckless and Irresponsible " and I should probably just go home, when Waylon ("The" Horse Guy and soon to be great friend), gives me a gentle, unexpected push that almost startles me out of the saddle. He says relax, loosen up, have fun .... He then keeps riding up & down the line of other horses and riders. I try to take his advice and focus on the good times and the moment. I hear someone inquire about me and someone else answer "He's on Wicahpi". I looked down at my horse and settled in and started thinking again, " Wi-cah-pi “? I think of my names and how I got them. The tradition in my family is to have 2 middle names. Supposedly to give my Parents an opportunity to help define our character and paths in life (my Sister's name means " Sweet Peaceful Earth " in 3 different languages). My name is Jason Scott Eric, after Jason and the Argonauts, Sir Robert Falcon Scott (Arctic Explorer) and Erik the Red (Father of Leif Erikson). On contemplation I realized that " Jason " had a ship full of Heroes but his quest was fraught with danger, tragedy and bad decisions. Sir Robert Falcon Scott (though Noble in His endeavor) still arrived 5 weeks too late and perished of starvation and exposure 10 miles shy of food and supplies. And Erik The Red, who was kicked out of Iceland and fell off his horse, considering it a bad omen and decided to stay home on the day that his son Leif set off to North America... I dwell some more.
I am reminded of a story of when I was small (2nd grade or so). I was trying to stay up all night to watch the "Jerry Lewis Telethon" and I pleaded with my Mom to let me stay awake and watch it. Two hours after " bedtime " and I couldn't keep my eyes open. My Mother scooped me up and took me out into the cold night air. She rolled me out of my blanket and around the lawn for a bit. Then she wrapped me and the blanket up in her arms and told me a story. It was about when She was young. She and her older Brother were left alone in their home, it was dark and the house had no electricity. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves they sat quietly in the dark. My Mother, being very young, was frightened and started to cry. Her Brother (not being much older) tried to be comforting and asked about her tears. She told him that there were No Lights!! “Yes, there is”, he says, and leads her outside and pointing up he tells her to "Look". It being Dark, the Milky Way looked like a river across the Sky with so many dots of “Light"! "See", he says, "there are lots of them! And they are always there. Even when it's cloudy or the Sun is out, all you have to do is look up and know that those "Lights" are always there"! When She finished, I looked up into the sky with new wonder. She squeezed me and whispered in my ear "Wi-cah-pi"... That means " Star ".
And that's when I fell off my horse!
Wicahpi and Shunka (Dog) were the first words I learned in Lakota. And much like that night long ago, I wanted to learn more and I didn't want to miss a thing.
From the first meeting with Dave and the Tipi Raisers Family (which is what it has become) I thought " Wow ", I hope this works out well. After just a few minutes though I saw Dave's manor and approach to the simple acts of introducing me to the animals and the act of placing tack and saddles on. I saw the respect and care he took and the ease and temperament of the Horses, Masa and Eshna (I was on Eshna) . We discussed the struggles and shortcomings of life on the Reservation and the needs of the people. As I listened I saw the genuine concern about the topics he mentioned, which awakened the same feelings in me . It seemed like A lot to "Take on", but I never saddled a horse before that day and the need seemed great. Upon spending more time with Dave I knew there were lots of ways I could help, and who didn't want to ride a horse and be a part of such an adventure?
It was easy to find ways to help, there were so many things that needed to be done and I was drawn more and more into the excitement of it all. Things that would normally seem like a chore or burden turned into something else. I began to fill roles that were needed and to rely on other people in a way I wouldn't have been comfortable with before. Most importantly I listened... things like driving 6 hrs one way to places I've never been, to pick up people I've never met seemed like a small price to pay for the opportunity to talk, listen and become good friends, more like family, with all the concerns, warm thoughts and feelings that come with Family; "Mitakuye Oyasin" (We are all related). It was more than a sense of Community. I didn't even understand that word until after my involvement. If anything, I never wanted the visits to end and my thoughts and heart stayed with all of my new found relations ! I feel thankful and blessed for the opportunities that the Tipi Raisers have given me and honored to aid the Tasunke Wakan Nation ( Sacred Horse Nation ). Humblie Le Anpetu ki Oglala Lakota Oyate ki unsiwica kila pi ye ( I ask for compassion for my Relatives ). Oaye Waste , Wowasake na Woawanglake wicayaku pi kte ( Give them good direction , strength and protection ).
The help the Tipi Raisers bring to the Oceti Sakowin is immeasurable .
Wopila, WOPILA Tanka (Many MANY Thanks )!!
Jason Larkin, Lakota Rider
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