When we first got to Maryland, we couldn’t move into our house because we were waiting for our stuff. We stayed with a close friend on her horse farm for a week. Since then, my daughter’s been dying to ride a horse.
My little girl took to the horses right away. Our friend, Elaine, let her come along to feed them, and my daughter couldn’t pet them enough. We couldn’t do a riding lesson while we were there because Elaine didn’t get home until dark, and when she did have time, the weather didn’t cooperate.
We moved out of Elaine’s a month ago and my daughter’s never stopped talking about the horses. So last week I asked Elaine for a riding lesson. We had a scheduling conflict so my daughter had to choose between a trip to her happy place — the American Girl store — and riding. I was shocked when she chose riding. She was psyched. On Saturday morning, we all went to Elaine’s to watch my daughter’s first lesson.
Elaine had saddled up her little white horse when we got there. As she bridled him, I felt a little nip of fear in the pit of my stomach, but I chalked it up to my own issues with horses. I rode for several years as a kid, and every time I got on a horse I had butterflies.
When my daughter was ready to mount, Elaine asked that one of us walk alongside the horse and hold my daughter’s hips in case she slipped. I was going to do it and then my husband volunteered. It was cold and windy and he looked like the Grim Reaper with his black jacked zipped all the way to his chin and his hood gathered around his face. The Reaper entered the corral.
“Are you scared?” Elaine asked.
“I’m not scared of anything,” my daughter said. Except for barking dogs, that’s pretty much true.
Elaine lifted my daughter onto the horse and she sat for a while, looking damn good, I might add. “Do you want to walk around?” Elaine said.
“Honey, if you start to slip, grab the saddle, not the reins,” I said.
Elaine untied the horse from the fence and instructed my husband to hold my daughter’s hips when they got to the middle of the field. She backed up the horse and as I reached for my camera, my husband approached the horse. Spooked, it shied sideways, trotting away from him. My husband stepped back. I thought the horse would stop but he kept trotting sideways and my daughter slid off, clutching the reins. Her foot stuck in the stirrup and she hung there a second, flopping until she jostled out and swung down, still clutching the reins. The horse shied backwards and shook his head, tossing her as her little body hung on his reins. His trampling hooves were so close. “Let go!” my husband yelled.
That would drop her closer to those deadly hooves, but holding on wasn’t a good idea either. “Let go!” I yelled, terrified. I pictured the horse trampling her and had the horrifying realization that this was real, not some nightmare or anxiety-fueled vision about losing my kids. It could actually happen. That fast. And she’d never be the same, if she survived at all. She let go and fell on the ground as Elaine pushed the horse back and then grabbed my daughter. My baby ran to my husband and I could see her blood-red face cry and her little body shake as she hugged him. I wished I was in there to comfort her. I had to stay outside the fence with our son. But my daughter was okay, and that was the important thing. As my brain frantically tried to process what just happened, I couldn’t believe how close she came. Leading the horse to her, Elaine nudged my daughter.
“He wants to apologize,” she said, and my brave girl went up and petted his nose. Everyone walked back to the fence, and Elaine tied up the horse. We talked about why the horse spooked. Maybe my husband’s appearance did it. The horse didn’t know him, for one thing, and it couldn’t even see his face with his hood scrunched around it. Elaine said we could never be sure. We let my daughter calm down for a while and Elaine asked, “Do you want to get on again?”
“Yeah,” my daughter said. Wow. My ass would’ve been in the car, hysterically crying on the way home by that time.
So Elaine lifted my amazingly brave daughter back onto the horse, where she sat calmly. “Good girl!” I said. “Honey there’s even a saying that says ‘When you fall off a horse, you should get right back on.’”
My daughter smiled.
“Do you want to walk again?” Elaine said.
“NO!” my daughter said. Okay, I could totally see that.
The horse calmly stood as my baby straddled his back for a little while. She asked to get down and that was the end of the riding lesson. I couldn’t believe how calm my daughter was. The image of her hanging on the reins in front of those thundering hooves burned in my mind. I was certainly not calm, but pride overrode the anxiety I felt. My little girl was braver than I could have imagined. I can’t believe she got back on that horse. With that kind of moxie, I think she’s destined for big things, and I can’t wait to see what they are.