In April 2012, my daughter and I took a special Spring Break trip to visit some friends in Texas who own a large horse ranch. They very graciously welcomed my daughter and I for a week of riding lessons. Like most 10-year-olds, my daughter was a little obsessed with horses. I remember well being the same way, and how my mother wisely arranged for me to get some first-hand experience working at a ranch. I thought I would be bobbing happily in the saddle on a daily basis, wind blowing in my hair, working on my sun tan. I imagined I would end each day with a little bushing of the horse's withers as she playfully tickled my cheek with her whiskerey muzzle before I latched her safely back in her stall. I never did get to ride, but I certainly learned just how much work horses are to take care of, and how feisty and uncooperative their personalities could be. It effectively quelled my longing to own a horse without crushing my love of them. That was hardly my intention that week 2 years ago, as I have to admit, I was excited to get up in the saddle a little bit myself.
My daughter started off with a basic tutorial. Our friend, the owner of the ranch, very patiently walked her through leading the horse, mounting, walking, steering and stopping. The next day she tried trotting, and continued to learn how to communicate not only with her mouth, but also her legs and hands. My daughter rode on three different horses during our stay, the last being a beautiful bay mare whom our friend's daughter had ridden when she claimed the Reining World Championship. She was a very good, obedient mount, but still very spirited, and not always certain how to take instruction from the light-weight amateur on her back. I knew it was possible that my daughter might experience a fall. That just happens when you ride, and I prayed earnestly that if it happened, the incident would come without injury. It had been a little disconcerting to learn on our arrival that our champion friend had been thrown just hours before, leaving her miraculously alive, but with a hideous bruise that spread from her forehead to her eyes, darkening as the week progressed until she looked literally like she was wearing Batman's black mask. But my brave girl wasn't deterred. I watched with pride and a tiny helping of nerves as she went through her lessons, and was just starting to feel at ease when it happened. They were in the round pen, walking in circles as our friend stood in the middle with the long whip, guiding the horse with his gentle clucks and taps. Then something spooked the horse, or irritated her, and suddenly she took off at a run. My daughter held on the best she could, but the pace and the bouncing was too much for her, and she fell off into the soft bank of fine red dirt that had built up against the pen wall. To my huge relief, she was uninjured, just a little shaken. She dusted herself off, let us all check her over, but didn't even want for a moment to sit down for a while. She wanted right back up.
I was so proud of my girl. I was so grateful that she didn't walk or limp away from something scary, but that she was determined to try again. That spirit of bravery inspires me, and gives me the courage to get back up when I am down. Some falls are not without injury. Some carry with them permanent scars that don't go away over time, and finding the courage to get back in the saddle is a steeper hill to climb. But people do it every day, against incredible odds.
My daughter hasn't ridden since that trip to Texas, and she has definitely outgrown the darling boots and spurs our generous friends got her so she could ride in style. But I hope she will never forget the experience. And when life knocks her down now and then, I hope she will always get back up, dust herself off, laugh a little with those who love her and were there to make sure she is okay, then get right back in the saddle like the brave young lady she is. And I'm going to try to do the same.