What It Takes
So this week I'm going to share with you a story I wrote a year back. This is a true story and everyone in this story is real. I changed all the names for internet protection, but other than that all the events in here really happened and this was a struggle in my life.
I hope you learn something from it and I encourage you in some way.
What it Takes
Poof! I hit the ground with a thud and watched in distraught as Rylee ran up the hill bucking. Not again! I groaned, slowly standing up and watching Miss Hattie run towards Rylee and stop him. Mrs. Virginian and Madeline Virginian, as well as the Johnsons, watched with their mouths agape.
Marie trotted over on Levi, her face showing concern. "Are you alright?" she asked nonchalantly. I could tell she was trying to keep calm so I wouldn't break out crying.
"Fine." I mumbled, walking towards Miss Hattie and Rylee, who were heading in my direction.
"Whoa, what happened? Are you okay Emily?" Miss Hattie asked rapidly. "I've never seen him do that!"
Sure you haven't. Miss Hattie said that every time one of the horses did something bad. This time though, I did half believe her. I had never seen Rylee buck before.
"What happened Emily? Why did he buck?" Miss Hattie demanded.
Rylee the Thoroughbred
I narrowed my eyes at Rylee, who looked like he was sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you fall off. His eyes seem to say. I could never stay mad at the big red sorrel gelding for long.
"I was racing Marie, and Rylee was going too fast, so I pulled him back." I explained, stuffing my hands in my pocket and trying to ignore the gaze of the other Co-op families. "Apparently he wanted to race pretty bad and bucked. And you saw the rest."
Miss Hattie pointed at Rylee. "Are you going to get back on and do it again to see what the problem is?"
I glanced at Rylee, who bobbed his head. "No." I said at last, embarrassed. "My legs hurt."
"I understand. I'll ride him." Miss Hattie told me, and I helped her mount up. I watched as she rode away next to Marie, who turned to look back at me. Sorry. Her eyes said. It was her idea to race. I didn't have to race, but I'd done it anyways because she'd kept asking me. I should have listened to my intuition and not done it.
I kicked the dirt and walked towards one of the paddocks. I hated this. This was the fourteenth time I'd come off a horse in five years. I was known for not being able to stay on, and it shamed me greatly. I couldn't ride bareback because I slipped off. And in the saddle I got bucked off, thrown off, fell off, you named it I'd done it. I would make jokes about it with the other kids, but inside I was in turmoil. Why can't I stay on? What is wrong with me? I demanded, pushing back the tears that were forming.
"Emily, are you alright?" Madeline called.
"I'm fine." I answered, walking towards the fence. "Rylee wanted to race and so he bucked me off."
Here came my dad, who had no doubt seen the whole thing. My heart sank, knowing that he was going to be asking me all kinds of questions.
"Emily! Are you okay?" Dad called, jogging over.
"What happened?" My dad shoved his hat back and studied my face.
I looked down at the ground and stated, "Rylee wanted to race, I didn't let him, so he bucked me off."
I heard hoof beats and turned to see Miss Hattie and Marie racing up the hill, Miss Hattie pulling Rylee back and releasing in steady rhythm. Rylee didn't do a thing.
Of course. It's only ME he does those things to.
It was usually only me that these things happened to.
Miss Hattie pulled Rylee to a stop in front of me. "Well, he definitely wanted to buck." She told me, dismounting from Rylee. "But if you pull back and release over and over again, instead of using steady pressure, he doesn't do it."
"I'll remember that."
Miss Hattie gestured towards Rylee. "I love your saddle."
I couldn't help but smile at that. She always said that every time she rode in it. Word at the farm was I had the most comfortable saddle of all, and I believed it. It had a padded seat and padded stirrups, a nice bonus. Everyone was envious of it, and I liked that. At least I had something that made me feel a little bit special.
"So next time, Emily," Miss Hattie was saying, snapping me out of my train of thought, "Next time you race make sure to pull and release instead of steady pressure. Okay? Then he won't buck you off."
"Yes Miss Hattie." I answered respectfully.
"Do you want to ride him again?"
I glanced at dad, who shook his head. He wanted to go home, I could tell. "No, our session was over twenty minutes ago. Next week." I said decisively. Marie dismounted off of Levi and led him to the arena. I took the reins from Miss Hattie and led Rylee behind Levi. Rylee nuzzled me, and I patted his nose. "It's not your fault I can't stay on." I murmured. I could just imagine the phone calls I was going to receive this week, asking me what happened. No doubt Diane and Elizabeth would hear about it.
Let's just hope Miss Hattie doesn't exaggerate too much. I really, really hoped she wouldn't, otherwise I would never be able to live it down. Not because of everyone else being nasty, more like them all being nice. It made me feel even more ridiculous, and I hoped against hope that no one would hear about the incident today.
Turned out I was right, Miss Hattie did exaggerate it. But this time it worked out for the best, she made it sound like Rylee was doing rodeo bucks and that I had bailed so I wouldn't get dragged. That made me feel a little better, and I couldn't help but smile when I thought about it. Though I had just added another fall to my long list of mishaps, at least this one sounded dramatic.
Mom was always telling me I cared too much about what the others thought. "Truth is, Emily, no one really thinks about how much you fall off." She told me.
I knew she was right, but it was hard. I felt like they did care, and I felt like I was a failure. I had been one of the longest riding students at Co-op and I was a worse rider than all of the other students. I was also the second oldest student there, so I was one of those kids all the little ones looked up to. And I came off, all the time. I suppose that provided some encouragement to my shadows, the Hansen girls. They realized that no one was perfect, and it didn't make them feel bad when they came off. They just shrugged it off and said, "Emily comes off sometimes, too. It's no big deal."
I guess I could have been glad I helped them out a bit, but it still was embarrassing. I treated it like it was no big deal around everyone else, but my family knew the real truth. I was ashamed of myself.
And then one day it happened.
Now, I was a sort of horse trainer for the Co-op. Even with my downfall that I had trouble staying on, I must say I was a pretty good horsewoman when it came to training.
I knew how to get results, and I knew how to fix bad habits. So it was no wonder that the bad horses came to me for training.
And this Summers' current project was Rylee. He was having trouble being caught up, standing still, not freaking out while he was cantering, and letting someone put the bridle on. He also needed to be on graze time, for he was a skinny horse. Harsh winters were predicted this year, and he needed to be fattened up.
"He's a project horse, no doubt about it." Miss Hattie told me. "Would you like to train him, take care of him, call him your very own and name him George?"
I laughed with her as she made a goofy face, and agreed I would do it.
Rylee arrived that Thursday down at the neighbor's house where I kept all my training prospects (my sister owned a horse, and her horse couldn't be stabled with any other horse because she'd kick them) and I showed him around to get him used to the property. He was a pro, he wasn't fazed at all. I took off that halter of his and he put his head down and grazed. And grazed and grazed and grazed. I don't believe he ate any hay those first two days at all, he just chomped down that field of graze down to an inch.
And then training started.
Doing some groundwork with Rylee. This is called desensitizing.
It didn't take me long to realize we were going to have to start from ground zero and make our way up, he was incredibly disrespectful and kind of pushed all over you. So I started groundworking him, and didn't ride him for a week. The transformation was stunning, he completely turned into another horse. Once I earned his respect, he turned around and wanted to be a good boy. His bridling problem virtually disappeared, and he stood still while I mounted. He stopped when I asked him to, and even started backing up before I cued. He was doing so well I decided to ride him bareback one day in a halter.
That, was a mistake.
It was really my fault this time around, for I was trying out a new lead rope. I didn't like Rylee's other lead rope at all, it was far too short and it felt rough in my hands. So I put my fourteen foot long lead rope onto his halter, tied it like reins and then mounted up. Rylee was doing fine, I walked him around a little, and even did some trots. I felt pretty good on him, and cantered him up the hill. Now, I make a practice that when I canter I will ask my horse to whoa, and if he does and does it quickly, I'll pat him and praise him and ask him to flex, and we'll stand there awhile to show he was a good boy. This was especially important with Rylee, for he was afraid of cantering. Since he had loped when I had asked him to right off, I whoaed him at the top of the hill and stood there a while to show he had done what I wanted him to do.
To this day I have no idea what happened next, but while we were standing there Rylee suddenly leapt forward in a spook and ran five steps. I wasn't expecting this at all, and tumbled straight off, catching my foot in the reins.
I believe my heart stopped for a minute as Rylee froze into place, and I braced myself for what I was sure was going to happen. Rylee didn't move. I quickly untangled myself from the lead rope/reins, and stood up, shakily petting Rylee and praising him for not running.
Rylee had always taken off when someone had fallen off, for he was afraid of getting in trouble. If he had taken off when I'd come off, he would have dragged me. This of course would have scared him more and caused him to go faster, and I would have been seriously injured. I can only thank God that he stopped and didn't move when I came off. After that incident I've always made extra sure that all the horses I'm given to train I teach to stop if someone falls off.
That incident really upset me, and I began brooding over the fact I had fallen off again. Now my total falls was up to fifteen, and I was positive I had broken the all time fall record at Co-op. For the rest of the Summer I didn't ride bareback unless I didn't have time to saddle up, and when I did ride bareback I was as stiff as a board, nervous and wary. Give me my saddle and I was the most confident rider you'd ever seen, but put me on a horse bareback and I became the five-year-old gripping the reins until their knuckles were white.
I think it was four weeks later that I took Rylee on his first trail ride out of the pasture. He was fantastic, I was so proud of him. This was the horse who was known for taking off with riders on the trail and spooking, and he was acting like a pro. The second time I took him out I even galloped him on a stretch of grass that was near the road, and he behaved wonderfully. It was after that ride that I began to take him on frequent trail rides with my neighbor or with my sister. My neighbor Lilly and I had a wonderful time exploring trails, talking, and enjoying each others company in the late hours of the Summer as I rode Rylee and she rode her sorrel gelding, Rusty. Rylee and Rusty looked like twins, and they got along great.
When Marie and I went on trail rides, they usually were quiet and full of training as we both worked with our mounts. Marie was a serious rider, she used every possible moment to train her horse Mia. I, on the other hand, was more of your classic trail rider. I enjoyed talking with my trail partners and swapping stories, maybe even sing a song or two. But Marie was as silent as the grave, and instead I used my time training Rylee, which was a good thing to do anyways.
During one of our rides where it was Lilly, Marie and I, we had the opportunity to get permission from one of the farmers to ride on her land as soon as the wheat was harvested.
Marie and I were so excited we could hardly wait, and each day we'd peer across our yard to see if the field had been cut. I remember the morning when I got up and was out taking care of my chickens and rooster, and I glanced up and noticed the field was brown. I think I dropped the feed bucket and ran into the house, shouting, "Marie! The field has been cut!"
Naturally, the next day found Marie and I riding Mia and Rylee out onto the prairie. We had a blast! We could gallop for two miles straight, and there were dozens of hills to scale and look over the land. Rylee did so well that I couldn't stop talking about it for days afterwards. He cantered when I asked him to, he stopped when I wanted him to stop, we worked on training, he was a dream.
The second time out? Not so much.
I remember coming home that night with tears in my eyes and my hands bloodied from stress. I have a strange medical condition that when I get stressed out, nervous or excited my fingers break open and bleed, and Rylee was able to achieve that within thirty minutes. Isn't it interesting that a horse can make you feel like you're God's gift to the horse world one day, and the next you come home from the barn crying and wailing and feeling like a failure. Horses give us confidence, and they wreck it. And this particular time Rylee wrecked it.
He had done well for the first hour, but after a while he got tired of watching Mia and Marie riding a mile ahead of us (Marie and Mia had been training all summer, and were working on endurance riding. Rylee had terrible breathing problems, and could only canter for about five minutes before I had to stop him so he wouldn't hurt himself.) and wanted to catch up. I of course didn't want to wear him out, and firmly reined him in and worked on some lateral flexing. Well, when I asked him to take off at a canter departure Rylee whirled around on me and took off with me towards where he'd seen Mia and Marie last. I one reined stopped him and worked him in a tight circle, then asked him to canter again. Off he took again, this time towards home! By the time I'd straightened him out he was tired and so was I, and it was late. The ride home was quiet (as usual) and I began brooding again. I was upset with myself, wondering what I'd done wrong in Rylee's training that caused him to act so. I was afraid to go back out for his taking off with me had really spooked me, even if I had been able to stop him. For the next week I worked in the pasture, hoping that all this training would make the next ride out much better.
"Want to go for a ride?" Marie asked me when we got home from church one Sunday. It was a beautiful fall day, and one of the coolest so far. It was only sixty degrees, and a perfect riding day.
"Okay." I agreed, though my heart skipped a beat at the thought. I didn't want Rylee to take off with me again, or worse, I didn't want to come off.
When we reached the field Marie and Mia promptly took off, and I had to fight with Rylee to get him not to follow at a crazy gallop. I already was nervous, and was quite downhearted that we'd gotten off to such a bad start.
Twenty minutes later though, I was beginning to feel a little better. Rylee was trotting nicely, and was listening.
Rylee's being a good boy here.
I glanced at the flat stretch ahead of me, and I could just make out Marie and Mia far off in the distance. "Want to gallop, boy?" I said slowly. I patted Rylee on the neck. Like he usually did while we were standing still, he shook his head. "I'll take that as a yes."
I took a deep breath and asked Rylee to trot, and after we'd trotted ten paces, I asked him to canter. His canter was nice and easy, and slowly I asked him to extend it faster and faster until we were galloping. Then we were flying across the prairie, the wind in our faces and the sun on our backs. Rylee was enjoying himself, as was I, much to my surprise. I felt in control, and even switched to one handed riding.
I noticed up in the distance a pile of straw the combine had missed, and was surprised Rylee wasn't avoiding it. He didn't like those piles and usually went around them.
I should have seen it coming.
Rylee hadn't seen the pile of straw until we were right on it, and with a snort of terror he leapt ten feet sideways and whirled around, took off at a flat out gallop and started bucking. I have no idea how I managed to stay on, I just remember Rylee bucking and me grabbing the reins and doing a one rein stop. Rylee turned towards the left and stopped, and I had him flex from side to side for about three minutes before I asked him to walk up to the 'scary' straw pile. He did so willingly, and stuck his nose right into the pile and snorted.
"You stupid horse!" I shouted as he tried to eat it, "You acted like that thing was going to kill you!"
I looked down at my hands and saw they were bleeding, and realized I'd been more scared than I thought.
And then it hit me. I had stayed on while he was bucking. It took a minute for the facts to sink in, and when they did I grinned. I had stayed on! I hadn't come off! Rylee had took off, leapt sideways and had bucked at least three times and I hadn't come off!
That night I proudly shared the story with my family, telling them that I, Emily, the one who always came off a horse and was known for not being able to stay on, had stayed on through three bucks.
"Good job!" Dad praised, and I beamed.
"Emily," Marie said, catching my attention. I glanced sideways at her and waited for her to say what she had to say. "Just because you fall off doesn't mean you're a bad rider. That's great you didn't come off today, but even if you did that doesn't mean you're a bad rider."
"I know." I told her. I'd heard this speech before.
"Hear me out here." Marie retorted. "The reason horses are always bad for you is because you push them to do things no one else has ever asked them to do. You're the first one to race Rylee in the pasture this Spring, and no one knew he bucked while he raced. No one had ever tried it, but you did. You were the first one to ride Rylee with those reins, and when he spooked you came off and caught in the reins. We quickly discarded those reins and didn't use them again, but no one had tried them before. You're the first one to take Rylee on the prairie, and the first one to gallop him outside of an arena. No one has tried it before. Don't you see Emily? The reason why horses are bad for you and you come off is because you're trying things no one else has tried. You're pushing yourself to your limits to see what you can do, and so you end up in more accidents than most people because you're brave enough to try new things. That's why you come off Emily, not because you're a bad rider."
I chewed on these words thoughtfully, and let them sink in. Could this be? Could this be the reason I came off all the time, because I was brave enough to try things no one else had tried?
This Summer was the best Summer of my life. It was a dream Summer, really. When Winter rolled around I was asked to take care of Rylee for the Winter, which I gladly accepted. And you know what? It gets so cold up here in the Winter that I have to ride bareback every time I ride to keep warm. I have only fallen off once in the last three months. Only once! And I'm cantering and trotting and galloping and doing fast turns, and I have only fallen off once while I've been riding bareback.
I had been capable of riding bareback all this time, but it was myself that was keeping me from doing it. Because I had convinced myself I was a failure and was no good at riding bareback, I couldn't do it. I have only been in the saddle five times in the last three months, and I ride about six days out of the week. (Except of course when I'm sick, which has been the story lately) And I really can ride bareback. I just had to realize it. No matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you think, and no matter what the problem is, keep trying. Perhaps you, too, will find that the reason you're always messing up is because you're trying things no one else has tried. You just were the only one brave enough to try it.