In the saddle, again, tentatively, courageously

Posted: October 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

Along with other members of my Rotary Club, I volunteer as a “walker,” steadying various riders atop their trusty mounts. The Sunny Oaks Equine program specializes in reaching out to people with a host of disabilities, many of them children and youth. These challenges span a spectrum of ability and age. What they have in common, however, is the healing power of horses. And what a power it is.

I was surprised by my assignment when I arrived at the corral this evening. She was a woman my age, striving to balance herself in the saddle, helmet in place, listing from side to side as she sought out the center point. Her grown daughter intercepted me as I headed in to take my place beside her. She encouraged me to do whatever it took to keep her upright. “You see,” she said in a matter of fact way, “seven months ago mom had a cerebral aneurism that slayed her body and mind. It’s been a long road and she still can’t retrieve even a rudimentary level of the language, the thoughts, and the movement that she used to have. It was all taken from her in a moment.” This was the woman I walked beside, steadying her as she straddled a creature that was easily five times her size and strength.

Several times she mentioned horses from earlier in life, and when I asked her about riding she said that it was something she had enjoyed from the beginning. And so here she was, returning, the same and very much not the same. At one point she had us steer toward the corral fence where her daughter and husband sat on the outside. “Show the picture,” she implored, and the daughter stepped forward with a framed photo taken years ago. It was of her prized horse, an Arabian, one that was a gift from her husband. And there she was, a younger, stronger, whole version of herself, riding, sitting tall and proud in the saddle, a look of total confidence in her face.

She wanted us to see, to know who she was, who she had been, who she felt like even if we could not see it, not the diminished version before us who was afraid of dismounting because she might fall.

There was another rider in the ring, a little girl, probably seven or eight, blonde curls falling out of her riding helmet. She was altogether happy with her four-legged friend. My older charge saw her across the corral and her eyes locked on her, words sputtering out how pretty, how dear, how well she rode. And when it came time for end of season ceremonial awards to be presented to riders, my rider said, “That little girl, she should have, the ribbon. She needs to get the ribbon.”

Somewhere in the depth of memory, the proud rider of Arabians saw herself in this little girl, there across the ring, riding, riding, riding the circle, laughing, smiling, moving, reaching across the ring, across the span of time, body, ability, loss, beauty, and age, until in the end all that was left was the clomp of hooves, many hooves, in the rhythm of life, the repeating rhythm, that no one makes, but hears, receives in riding, traveling far, again and again, loving, longing, and remembering with whatever reins we hold in our hands until our turn is over.

  1. Gloria Beranek says:

    Beautiful, Tim . . .

  2. Janice Henson says:

    So beautiful. Brings back so many memories. As a child, my goal in life was to be a cowboy, but the suburban blue collar town I grew up in didn’t allow for that. But in my dreams…You and the Rotary Club are doing a great service.

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