Horses are in my blood. I come from a long line of horse people (I think that's what you would call them). For generations the men in my father's family were blacksmiths. When my Dad was a boy he would go to Harrowsmith, Ontario for the summer and help his grandfather at his blacksmith shop. My father in his early years exercised / trained race horses. He had to give up his great love when I made my arrival. It was time for him to stop what he loved to support his new family. My Dad gets this wistful look about his face when he looks at horses. It's funny that although I come from a long long line of horse people, it is only in the last 6 years that I have discovered that I myself love horses. Until 6 years ago I had never so much as touched a horse. I still have not gotten the courage to ride (mainly for the fear of breaking the poor horse's back if the truth be told), but I would groom them forever. There is something almost religious about being near horses I have discovered late in life.
My first introduction to horses was through my friend Laura. Laura was starting a small business teaching English riding lessons. Grace had voiced a desire to ride. At the time she seemed like such a big girl, but as I look at the picture below I realize that she was just little. The love of horses ran deep through Grace's veins. She LOVED it! For Christmas we got her a pink riding helmet, and her own pink grooming kit. Santa brought her a giant horse, and small play horses. She was delighted.
All along we had warned her that part of riding is falling. It was easy for me to say. Horses are so big and it was not me that would fall. It seemed in theory to her to be an acceptable risk. Her love of riding never wavered. Each week Laura would teach Grace new techniques, and Gracie sat there poised like this is what she had been meant for. My Dad kept trying to prepare her, "you will fall" he would tell her "but when you fall, you just get right back up". My dad's body tells the tales of falls and dances with horses feet and mouthes. Gracie would just nod, it was an acceptable risk. Eventually her run came to an end, and she fell. It was not as much a "fall" so much as a graceful slide right off the side, and thump to the ground. She was devastated, her pride as much as her back and bum hurt. We made her go back the next week for one more ride. She did not want to, now she knew that fear of falling. She rode, but her heart was not in it. The fall broke her love. I felt sad that chapter was now over for her. I kept thinking that time would heal that fear, but it didn't. Soon after Laura stopped teaching, not because of loosing Grace as a student, but because her life had become too busy to teach.
Last year Grace's friend Taylor began taking riding lessons again. Taylor had also been one of Laura's students. The love of horses was something that Grace and Taylor shared. Taylor's Mom posted pictures of Taylor riding, a big grin spread across her face. "Do you ever think that you would like to start riding again?" I asked Grace. "Nah" she replied. At that point she was in love with music. She was in the local band and taking piano lessons. I felt sad that that part of her life seemed to be over, but then I had to really think who I was sad for. Part of me was living through Grace. It was her life.
This year Taylor got Gracie hooked on the Canadian program Heartland. Heartland is the story of two girls who go to live with their grandfather on a horse ranch in cattle country. Shortly after Grace became hooked on Heartland, she got Riley hooked too. The girls would snuggle into Grace's bed and watch boxed sets of the past seasons (loaned by Taylor). Soon Amy, Tye, Lou, Grandpa Jack, and Peter became spoken of like they were friends. Grace and Riley would discuss what had happened in each episode in great detail. It was also around this time that Taylor and her Mom began sharing posts about JMT Performance Horses. This was where Taylor took her lessons. They teach western riding. About once a month there is a draw on Facebook to win a free riding lesson. I was very surprised to see that Grace had entered her name.
A few weeks ago we received some very exciting news, Grace's name had been selected to win a free riding lesson! She was so excited. I was excited too, because it meant that her love of riding was not dead, it had just been lying dormant. Excitedly Grace exchanged emails with Jade Tracey, the owner of JMT Performance Horses. It was decided that the free lesson would be Saturday, July 27 at 11:00.
Yesterday was the big day, the day had finally come. We dropped the other kids off at my parents and set off to JMT Performance Horses. The 911 numbers flashed along the side of the highway, we were looking for the right one ...1559. We drove past it, then turned around. We walked up to the barn where we met Sarah. Sarah is this tiny little woman dressed in pink cowboy boots and cowboy hat, who could not have been nicer if she tried. She told Gracie that she would be teaching her today.
Sarah introduced Grace to Meg, the pony that she would be riding. I wanted to run over and pat and hug and basically make a nuisance of myself to the poor pony. Grace gave her a pat and went to business. Sarah showed her how to put the blanket on, and how to adjust the saddle. She then got Grace suited up with a helmet and they were on their way.
I stood there amazed with this stupid grin on my face on the verge of tears watching her. She had not ridden in two years, and yet her body remembered. As soon as she was atop the pony, her shoulders went back, her back straightened just like Laura had taught her. I told this to my Dad later, and he just smiled, "your body doesn't forget."
She went around the path, smile on her face. She did some obstacles, smile still there. It was that smile that she wore to ride before the fall. It was that smile that said she was doing what she loved, what was in her blood. When her time was up she looked disappointed, and yet renewed.
On the car ride home Gracie was quiet in the back. Both Christopher and I asked her if she wanted to take lessons. Her answer was calm and almost introspective "yes". Short and sweet. Now for the test, I told her "We will pay for your lessons, but you have to buy either your own boots or your helmet." She did not like this deal. There was more silence and then "O.K." After a two year hiatus it seems that our little girl is back in the saddle and I am very happy about this.
I would really like to thank Jade Tracey for the opportunity, and to thank Sarah for her gentle manner which she approached Grace's first lesson.