my nine-year-old hands held the reins loosely. i was riding lucky, a big bay horse at the stable. it was the day we would take our horses out on the trail. i had hoped to ride mardigras, a stunning black horse with a white star tucked under its forelock. but lucky it was.
we rode out of the paddock and turned uphill toward the woods. nose-tail-nose-tail-nose-tail we rode silently, leather saddles squeaking under our tiny bodies. into the woods, our instructor let us separate out a bit, a little less interstate-traffic-jam-like, and we could each breathe a bit, enjoying the freedom of no fencing with our horses. lucky tossed his head and i bent down from my english riding posture to hug on his neck, running my hands under his mane. it was a beautiful day and i could think of nothing better to hold in my hands than the reins of a horse.
eventually we turned back toward the barn.
and in that moment, lucky pulled hard. the reins i had draped around my hands, thumbs properly placed, were wrenched from me. and lucky ran.
no one had told me ahead of time that lucky really loved the return trip to the barn. no one had mentioned that lucky, when turned downhill, would likely take his head, would likely run. no one had suggested that i pay closer attention to the reins when we were back-to-the-barn-bound.
i had never galloped before, but i was treated to lucky’s fastest gait going downhill. holding on with my knees as hard as i could i wished there was a western pommel i could grasp. i was at the mercy of this horse and he was having no mercy.
the barn came into view and lucky screeched to a stop. in the fluid move of a great white lipizzan, lucky reared up onto his hind legs and threw me to the ground. a defining moment indeed, hitting the ground. lucky, dragging his reins behind him, swaggered to the feed trough next to the barn and began to eat.
my instructor was soon at my side. she stood me up, checked me over, gave me a hug and walked me to another horse, giving me a quick peptalk on the way. she held out her hands linked together, gently but firmly asked me to place my foot into her shoe-up and immediately got me on another horse. overcome it.
and that brings me to today, a day i wish i could sit astride a horse and ride off into the woods.
nevertheless, i remember the words of sue aikens, “this will define me or i will overcome it,” and i, horse or no horse, take the reins in the middle of no-mercy and firmly hold them in my hands.