I have been waiting for several years to share my love of riding horses with my grandchildren. They needed to be big enough and it had to be the right horse, or pony. When the oldest one came along we still had a very geriatric stallion pony, Tony, and we put her on him to walk a bit. It was too early for her so it was obvious it would have to wait. Until a few weekends ago, the three grand kids have only enjoyed going to the barn and “helping” by giving handfuls of hay to the horses at feeding time. They have stayed in the aisle of the barn, only going into the stalls with me being a buffer between them and four hooves. They have briefly touched a leg or handed a carrot them but until this weekend, that was the sum of their view of being around horses, from the ground looking up. They have looked up into the large eyes and have smelled their breath, and gone back to get more handfuls of hay to feed them.
I was very lucky that, having been born with horse-itis, I had a grandfather who had a real horse on his farm and on our yearly summer visit to his farm in Tennessee, my brothers and I were tossed like sacks up onto old Lady’s back and got our picture made. I was usually in the back of the three aboard, with my brother Wilson taking the reins. The mare was a saint, looking back, I kicked and wiggled and did what I could to make the girl move, but she did as she was told by my grandfather, and we did not fall off.
The one exception to her sainthood came when, once on our visit to the farm, my middle brother, David, was being a jerk to me. He had a stick and was running around trying to whip me on the legs. I remember the sting and wondering why he would want to hurt me and find that funny. He was told not to by whatever attending adult was around, but to avail. Then it came time for David’s turn to sit in the saddle with old Lady.
There have been many “ aha moments” that I have experienced or have seen with horses through the many decades of being around them but this may well have been my first. My brother was hoisted up into the saddle, with the strong advice to leave the stick behind, and like I said, he was already being a jerk. My grandfather gave him the reins and David was to walk Lady around the big barn. He got about halfway around when we heard a hurrying of hooves combined with some plaintive screams imploring the help of my grandfather. David had, unwisely, used his stick to goad the mare, and, this is where it gets weird to me, she wheeled and took off with him, running straight back to my grandfather. My brother hollered until the mare came to a stop right in front of my grandfather. My grandfather said nothing but helped my blanched brother to the ground. He then picked me up and placed me in the saddle and together we walked around the barn, him leading a now, totally relaxed mare with a young child aboard.
What I felt at that moment was pure awe. That mare had reacted to my brother’s rude behavior, I think not only to her, but to me as well. I felt that there was an understanding that it was not ok to swat me on the legs anymore than it was ok to swat her, and so this placid beast had run away with the little jerk. She didn’t try to hurt him, but scare him she did. And then, when it was my turn to ride her, all I felt from her was safety. She had assessed the situation and dealt with it. He never rode her again but I spent many summer vacations at the farm riding old Lady, later with no help from my grandfather, and that mare was always an angel, because I treated her like she was one.
So until this weekend, my grandchildren have seen my horses only through gates and fences, and have only ridden the stuffed toy that, years back, we had gotten for the oldest one. If you pinched the ears a recording of a little song played, “I’m a little pony, clippity clop, clippity clop. Such a pretty pony, etc” and they would rock in time with the music. Mostly out grown now the toy pony sits unused by the front door. But, recently a new small mare has come to live with us for a while to help out her busy owner. I had ridden her before and felt hopeful that she was relatively safe for the kids.
I put my daughter’s old lead line saddle on this mare, Cleo, and put the strawberry shortcake helmet on our oldest 5 year old granddaughter and led them around the barn yard. I looked at the mare’s eyes and they told me of her life as a lesson horse, a safe one, one to trust with beginners and noisy children. Hers eyes spoke volumes to me in that moment of an understanding that crosses species barriers, that she carried a special package, and she walked carefully and calmly. Round and round the yard we walked and I was asked for more. Then it was time for the next child, our 2yr old granddaughter.
With the helmet traded, we put her up in the saddle. Her face was tight and concerned and she held the front of the little saddle firmly and I led the mare off at a walk. That was the moment a
light bulb moment happened for her. Suddenly, her face changed from deep concern, to relaxing, then to beaming. She smiled as we walked and began to sing the “Clippity, clop , such a pretty pony” song as we walked. She had made the connection between what had to have been a pretty abstract idea, to sit on a stuffed toy, to finally seeing that those big horses behind gates were to be ridden. It was amazing seeing this on her face, and, to see the quiet in the mare’s eyes, was total affirmation to me as to why I still have horses.
Horses have supplied me with so many “moments” through my life and each is etched in my memory, easily found and savored, again. They have been moments of recognition, or understanding and connection with the horse, a line opened to a portal to somewhere else. Horses have given me moments of pure magic, and seeing the look on my granddaughter’s face was proof to me that she too, had experienced her own “moment” too.
While it is true that the years and bumps have taken more of a toll than I had hoped for or wanted, but they came with these bits of glory and glee that are unlike anything else that has happened in my life. Horses are all about focusing on the moment and maybe that's why they are such good therapy sources. Perhaps its from having a connection with the mythical beast of a horse, the sensory experiences of living in their world for a while, enjoying the beauty of the animal and its spirit, and just being, in a transcendence of time. These kids may never take to riding as I have in my life, but i had hoped to share a little of this feeling with the grand kids and little Cleo helped me on that one. Hopefully there will be more.