Eliza loves animals. She says the cats talk to her, and she has a natural affinity with dogs and would love more than anything to have one, but that is another story... One of the things she fancies doing most in the world is ride a horse. She's not quite a "horse girl" with a fascination and love that eclipses all else, but she would love to have that experience, so when my sister, who loves horses, came to visit in October, I scheduled her and Eliza and my niece for a trail ride. Eliza was so excited (so was my sister!) and asked endless questions on the ride out - how do I tell the horse to go? and to stop? do you think they'll help me get up on the horse?
You can see the apprehension starting to grow in this picture, where she is meeting Jimmy, the horse she was to ride. Awe, mingling with uncertainty. It is very familiar to me; I have never felt comfortable with horses, which is why I saved this moment for her to share with my sister.
She was brave, though, and talked herself into mounting Jimmy, even putting on a smile...
But it was not to be, and as he started to walk up to join the other horses she began hissing at me urgently, her fear growing, and her eyes begging me to listen and take her seriously. We all stopped, and there were a few minutes of trying to calm her down enough for her to feel comfortable, but I realized that she needed me to trust her and just get her off the horse.
This was one disappointed kid. She was so sad about the whole thing, full of regret and embarrassment, wishing I'd not waited a minute before getting her off the horse, wishing she'd been brave enough to try it. As soon as they were off down the trail, leaving us to walk through the barn and then down into the woods to walk off some of the big feelings, she was wishing that she had stayed on and it all started up again. So hard.
The day ended with us talking about coming out sometime to volunteer, mucking the stalls, learning about the horses, getting more comfortable around their size and manner, and waiting until the right time to try again.
A few weeks later we visited the home of a farm school friend, who took us on a hike that wound past his neighbor's stable and pasture, and he introduced us to the "horse" he was learning to ride. After months of waiting out the rain and mud, Eliza finally had her first lesson yesterday on Levi, the pony. She still thinks he's pretty big, but not too big. His owner, Karen, was so kind and friendly, and immediately put our minds at ease, telling Eliza, "I want you to feel safe and comfortable and understand how to talk to horses and know what they're saying to you." She was speaking her language!
Eliza was GLOWING when we left the farm an hour later. She learned how to read a horse's body, and how to communicate what she wanted it to do. She learned how to tell whether or not a horse is comfortable and compliant and when you need to back away. When Karen offered to have her get up in the saddle and Eliza declined, she was met with total affirmation: "Eliza, you are listening to your inner wisdom. That is the most important thing you can do, I really admire that."
*the lovely 2nd and 3rd photographs are courtesy of my sistah