True grit

emme

Courage is 7.

She wears tan jodhpurs and a blue coat, and she rides a bowy, knock-knee pony with a wild forelock and a white blaze.

She breezes around the arena. Hair wild. Eyes set.

There’s the jump.

The same one.

She’s turning into it, already staring it down.

Too late now. No refusing.

You hold your breath.

Just a day ago, her mount — this tender pony that is so frightened of wind and atmosphere that he has to wear cotton in his ears to block it all out — approached the jump and then startled. He bucked, bolted, and galloped. A snapped twig. A throttling motorcycle. The farty blasts of other galloping beasts. Howling eucaplypti. Mad, imagined genii. Who knows what set him off? But you picture her as a rag doll, tied to fate and some frightened pony’s prey instincts and fears.

Absolutely nothing you can do about it.

After the fall, in her room, she says that she held on as long as she could until the pony, Harry Potter, went went one way and she went the other.

“Daddy,” she whispers, “Daddy … I’m scared.”

She’s in her bed. Her leg is bruised; her back a Mars-scape of scratches — all red and volcanic. The loam is supposed to be good for the horses but it will tear you up.

“When I landed, I just …”

She stops and rubs her leg.

“I’m … scared.”

You know this feeling well. This whole horse experiment started years ago — a birthday gift for your 5-year-old. The whole family rode these shifty horses led by a shifty, manic woman, and you got so scared when a horse simply walked up an incline that you jumped off — literally jumped off, thwomping into the dirt rather than continuing.

“It bucked!”

The rest of your family simply stared. You refused to get back on.

“It bucked,” you grumble, and you quietly appreciate that the lot of them hold their laughter.

And here she is. A different horse. A different farm. A different age. Canters, gallops, diagonals, jumps, half-chaps, spurs, and greenbroke horses — she’s immersed and obsessed, a student of this half-implacable trade.

It’s the next day.

She’s had a good talk with Harry, alone in the cross ties. The two of them. Working it out.

“I think they know me,” you remember her confiding one day, her eyes alight.

She rests her head against his long snout. You wouldn’t go near those teeth and she leans down to tickle his nose and give him a kiss.

And she’s suddenly astride again. She’s trotting. She’s cantering. She’s approaching the jump. The same one.

Deep down, you know you never would have done this again, and you’re thrilled and joyed and scared by this burgeoning dichotomy within her, this glimpse at who she’s becoming: softness and love, forgiveness and fear laced somehow with a mettle you’re not made of and have never known, some wild steel forged in Hephaestus’s tinsmith shop for the innocent.

She sets her eyes on the jump and then looks to the distance, where she wants to go. It’s one of the skills — to look where you want to wind up instead of where you are, and you see her eyes shift to the next obstacle even as her body trills and you think that’s what courage looks like as the pony’s bent legs begin to jump.

Comments

  1. Brilliantly written, Mike. I see the courage in my kids every day and it is something that has inspired me to face all the fears I have ever had.

  2. Mike?, I’m with ya. I encourage my girls to do and try anything but horses, man, I dunno. Maybe it was Chris Reeve, maybe that is precisely where this particular fatherly fear was birthed, but I am certain everyone who rides will end up in a wheelchair one day. Scares the crap out of me.

  3. Chris, so happy you’re inspired by their courage because man, it frightens me sometimes.

  4. Jeff, yes, exactly. Just scares the shit out of me some times. I know the pay off for all she’s gained is worth the small, slim risk, and I actually think a good fall or a broken bone is good for the soul, but that better be it!

  5. Well crafted. Thank you for the great content.

  6. Thank you!

  7. As a grown-up horse lover and Breyer horse collector, I will say… I love ponies. I especially love the ones with white blazes on their noses. I remember them all. Ruby the red appaloosa, who was tall and leggy. Lucy, my fat bay pony. Short and chubby who hated running, like I did in gym. But she’d run for me. She’d canter. And when I fell and twisted my knee, it wasn’t her fault. I remember Logan, the giant Clydesdale who decided to step back onto my toe when I was putting on his bridle. I learned I could push off a several hundred pound animal. I remember the big beautiful Palomino who was a ladies’ man with all the mares and the pretty little paint horse.

    The big brown eyes, though belonging to a animal taller and bigger than me, they’re more gentle than the girls doing gymnastics and cheerleading. Those wiggly lips and nose are so soft as I feel the horse’s breath on my hand, my face. As he looks down at me, I know he won’t tease me. She won’t talk about me behind my back. I feel the warmth coming off their fuzzy skin after a ride and cool them down with the hose. They’re doing all the work. This horse, for me.

    I eventually stopped because I didn’t like the jumps. (And I got a couple panic attacks.) I didn’t like learning which lead to start on. I didn’t want to show off. I just wanted to ride. I just wanted me and the horse to canter and gallop and go on adventures together. Me and the horse. When we ride, we move together. Especially the canter. Like a waltz. ba-da-bum.

    I know you think they’re scary. But for me (and for girls?) they’re big magical kind-hearted creatures.

    Ya know… except for the ones who are jerks.

  8. Wonderful story. I learned to ride at about age 5, but haven’t been on a horse in years. There is nothing quite like riding a pony that loves to run. Especially when you are young. Haven’t introduced the kid to horses yet though Mommy is wanting to. It is great to see the kids use their determination to achieve something besides breaking your will.

  9. Ha! Kim, the jerks are right. Most are I will admit super friendly. Great story. Except for the toe stepping. Ouch! Emme feels your pain.

  10. Eric, so so true that will part.

  11. Ever since seeing “Gone With the Wind,” I’m scared of little girls on horses. Of course, I’m also scared of Yankees coming down and burning our houses down, so maybe I need to move on.

  12. As long as you can keep your new beautiful deck…

  13. It sounds like she has a connection with the horses. It is courageous how she got back up on that horse. There is a certain romantic notion about horses – hearken back to an innocent time. However, they can be dangerous as you obviously know. I admire your daughter for seeing the danger and not backing away from it.

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