Sunday, November 22, 2009

And this is how it started

It starts on a walk through the neighborhood. You bring along a bag of carrots to feed the horses that occupy a nearby lot and notice a connection. Daughter and horse. She should be a little afraid given their big feet and huge teeth, the aggressive way they bite and stomp when a new horse comes close, threatening to take the carrot she offers. But she isn’t.

One day she inquired about ballet and tap and tae kwon do and you figured, maybe someday. And then she asks about riding a horse, and you think, I can see that. Together you read Black Beauty and talk about what it means to care for a horse. You buy more books that explain tack and hands-high, and she spends hours in a virtual world playing Let’s Ride Dreamer, but it’s not the same.

Then she spends a Saturday with her daddy, visiting some stables and asking about riding lessons. They form a connection with a trainer named Kate and want you to check out some of the stables too. Like Goldilocks choosing her lot, you find one stable too fancy, one too stinky and a third that feels just right. Kate’s place.

And so you sign her up.

But first you need the accessories. Like a dancer with the right shoes or a martial artist with the right gear, she needs stuff—helmet and boots and gloves. You take her to a tack store and a teenage equestrian, with years of riding experience, shows your daughter her choices. Two helmets. One that’s good. Another that’s better. Because this is your daughter’s head and not just anyone else’s head, you figure this is not the time to save twenty dollars. The boots with zippers make the cut and choosing the gloves is easy. Only one pair in the store is small enough.

On the first day of lessons, you take her to the stable and meet Kate. You knew about Kate’s condition, that she’s a paraplegic who was patching a barn roof in the middle of a storm and fell through. You immediately admire this woman who has not let adversity keep her from her passion and can’t think of a better role model for your young girl.

Then you see the massive beast your daughter is to ride. Where’s the pony? The gentle little guy who has to be bribed with food in order to trot? And then you see the way your daughter walks up and pets this huge animal, talks to Crissy and laughs as the horse nibbles at her helmet. You relax just a little and try not to think about the caveat someone offered you yesterday: She’s not a true horsewoman until she’s been stepped on, bitten, kicked and thrown. Please, not today, you think.

As she mounts the horse in the center of a sawdusty ring, you take your cue to step aside. Kate’s got this. You watch this orchestration: trainer and child and beast while they form a bond. You watch the little girl you sometimes consider obstinate and argumentative and hear Kate compliment her assertiveness and confidence and think, Well, yes. That’s another way to look at it.

Thoughts of dance recitals and martial arts competitions fade away to images of future riding shows. Of one day, your daughter spending time in a barn, mucking stalls and offering apples to her best friend instead of riding in cars with boys of questionable character. You watch a beautiful teenage girl at the barn one day, long legs tucked into tall boots, her hair in a sloppy ponytail as she washes down her horse. Her boyfriend stands nearby, holding a piece of tack, clearly taking a backseat to her true love.

You can see that. You can totally see that.