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.
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.