Wednesday, April 6, 2011

the world between a horse's ears

Springtime is here, and spending time in the country makes me long to be here:

I spent a huge portion of my childhood riding horses (and one very special pony) on roads, on trails and in shows. It's safe to say that with the guidance of my dear friend JoAnn, I learned the land that surrounded me. We we would ride gravel roads and corn fields for hours around our homes. I know the back roads so intuitively thanks to those early days of discovering them from a Western saddle. There was magic in those hours.

Sometimes, the magic would come in the discovery of something of which I was capable, in the heat of anxiety, knowing that death or serious injury was just past the next moment if I didn't act— and make the right decision— in the next split second. At a young age, I hit the ground many times, and it never got less shocking. I watched my friends tumble and their horses run and knew that in the moment all I could do was keep my own horse under control. I dug my heels deep down and squeezed with my knees, in the constant pursuit of a solid seat. I tugged reins and pulled my horse in tight circles, cooing to calm the horse, and maybe myself, too. I learned the subtlety of not tugging the reins, but instead guiding with just the lift of my wrist. Once, in a trail line of four horses on a narrow path, I guided my pony's head left and nudged her forward, diving into the woods when I saw no other way out.

There was anxiety, but there was also great peace. On sweet summer afternoons in the early days, I would ride behind JoAnn's saddle and lean my head against her back, sometimes closing my eyes. We would go on adventures, and they were always my favorites when it was just the two of us. She knew the trails and the routes, and she would often lead, but sometimes she would ask me to go ahead, and give me all the feeling of importance that I needed. She told me stories, she challenged me, and she always knew I was capable of more than I knew I was capable of. She took me on adventures and she dared me to be brave, to be strong and to take ownership of what I do.

I can't ever repay JoAnn for teaching me these life skills, and I am so happy to still call her a friend. She is one of the more intelligent, sweet, free-thinking and life-loving people I know.

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