When I was about eleven or twelve I took a horse named Applejack in 4H. He was a beautiful sorrel American Quarter Horse gelding who was all of five years old. For those of you who may know anything about horses, a five year old horse is probably not the best choice for a very green rider, and that is what I was… green with a capital G.
I cleaned up in Showmanship classes, but when it came to time ride him, it was a completely different story. The worst fall happened at The Madison County Fairgrounds. He bolted (who knows why) and I lost control, falling to the ground just before he ran under a guy-wire that sliced the saddle horn in two. I don’t remember the fall, but I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t landed head first on a strip of pavement. Would the wire have sliced through me, too? I was hospitalized with a concussion.
The next fall I remember also happened at the fairgrounds, although this time I was in the arena with a bunch of other kids, just trying to have a good time. Again, Applejack spooked and took off, bouncing me off toward the fence rail. All I remember from that one is hooves pounding the sand next to my head as my horse galloped on by.
That was the tumble that did it, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Although I’m sure I rode Applejack after that, I don’t remember it, and it seems like it was a pretty quick transition from being a star-struck horse owner, to…well… not.
I should note that all this happened back in “the good ole’ days” when kids who rode Western didn’t wear helmets. I’m definitely glad things are changing in that regard.
But back to the point of my story… when my daughter Jillian expressed an interest in learning to ride, I was all for it. My days with Applejack weren’t my last foray into horse ownership. (Once bitten by the horse bug, I don’t think it ever entirely goes away.) My parents bought me a wonderful 20+ year old mare named Babe when I was in high school, and although I didn’t show her, every moment I spent with her was pleasurable. If I’d had her before Applejack, I’m sure my horse showing path would have been significantly altered.
When Jillian was very little I bought the first horse I ever purchased on my own, a black Arabian named Prince. He was just two when I got him and after some training at a barn in Marysville I had high hopes for him. Unfortunately, my fear got in the way. I’d hit the ground too many times. Trust was a big deal. If I couldn’t trust him, there was no way he was going to be able to trust me. You see where this is going. He now has a wonderful home as a trail mount for a lovely Parelli enthusiast. I know he got the best end of that deal.
So, fast-forward to today. We have two horses in our pasture, a sweet Arab-Quarter cross named Molly, and a miniature horse named Voodoo, plus an American Quarter Horse at a barn outside of South Charleston, where Jillian takes lessons. Jillian’s had horse riding lessons off and on since she was four years old. She loves horses. Which is why we took the plunge and bought her the horse that resides at the barn away from our home. The horse we thought would be the perfect mount for her to start out with in local shows and 4H.
But… it hasn’t worked out as we’d hoped. The easy-going, been-there-done-that horse that we thought we were getting has proven to be a touch unpredictable, even when lunged before riding. I thought I was doing everything right, but it comes down to this… a horse is still an animal, unpredictable due to its very nature as a prey animal. I can’t eliminate all risk, but when risk leads to fear, what is a parent to do?
She’s already taken several tumbles. The last one being the most traumatic, as her foot was caught in the stirrup when she hit the ground. It has shaken her confidence like I’ve never seen. And as a parent, I’m having a hard time trying to force her over that hump. Don’t we have the reaction of fear for a reason? Without it, would humans have made it as far as we have? But what’s the cost? Don’t we need a touch of fear in order to foster success? To spur us on to become our best selves?
Sadly, I don’t have the answers, but I was given the glimpse of a possibility this past weekend, when my husband’s uncle and cousin came by to help teach us how to drive our miniature horse, Voodoo. I watched as Jillian took the lines and looked confident as we line drove Voodoo around our yard. Could this be the stepping stone? Could this tiny little mare be the stepping stone to propel Jillian over her fear of the saddle? Maybe I jumped the gun on buying the “show” horse. I may never know, but what I do know is that Jillian is happy and confident with Voodoo.
Last night when I was tucking her into bed she said, “Maybe I could take Voodoo in 4H instead of Jett. Would that be okay?” Of course, my answer was a resounding, “Whatever you want to do, Sweetheart.” But a nugget of regret taps at me from the inner recesses of my brain… Make her face her fears, Alicia. She’ll never experience success if you don’t make her face her fears now.”
If only we all had a crystal ball. But I’m open to advice…
What would YOU do – make her ride, or give her a chance to regain her confidence?