Monday, April 2, 2012

In The Saddle

This week my children were on Spring Break.  The majority of the break was spent close to home, enjoying local activities and trips to the park and out for ice cream.  Toward the end of the week, Mr. A and I did plan one overnight at a water park hotel located just over an hour from our home.We felt it would be a fun and enjoyable way to close out the week.

The hotel we selected has a stable on the property that offers trail rides for those aged seven and up, and pony rides for those six and younger.  Miss J has mentioned several times that she would live to try horseback riding and Mr. A and I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.  

A few days before our trip, I called the stable to make the reservation.  I spoke to the owner of the stable.
"How many in your party?" he asked.

"Four," I said, "but my husband and my nine year old daughter would like to do the trail ride.  I have a boy who is seven....I know your pony rides are for ages six and under, but could he possibly have a pony ride?  I should let you know that he is a five foot tall, eighty pound seven year old."

The owner asked, "Well, if he's seven, why not have him take a trail ride too?"
"He has special needs.  I don't think he would be able to ride a horse by himself."
"Ma'am" he began, "We've had a lot of different people come through here.  Maybe we can get your boy on a horse.  Come by thirty minutes early and let me meet him and I'll see what I can do."

As I hung up the phone, I was giddy with excitement at the possibility of M having a real trail ride.  Apparently, so was M.  At times I forget that he is listening to everything I say.  He'd heard the entire phone conversation I'd just had. 

"I ride a horse!"  he exclaimed.
"Yes buddy, maybe you will!"

For the rest of the day, M asked if it was time to ride the horse.  I tried to explain to him that it was still two days away.  It didn't matter.  Every few minutes he'd ask, "I go ride the horse now?"

The day finally arrived. We pulled up to the stable and we met the owner.  His face was weathered and tanned and friendly and he looked every bit the cowboy.  He took a look at M and asked some questions.  He felt that M would be able to ride.  He told us that two of his daughters would accompany us as guides.  If M couldn't handle the ride, one daughter would take M and I back to the stable and the other daughter would continue to guide the remaining riders.

As we waited along the fence to be matched to our horses, Miss J and M began bickering.  He yelled at her, she shoved him. M fell in mud.  I felt the stable owner watching and I felt the hot flush of embarrassment across my cheeks.  The stable owner came to me and said, 

"Enjoy every minute.  It goes by too fast.  My son and my daughter used to fight like cats and dogs.  His birthday is coming up on April 4th.  He died in August.  He was just twenty one.  Life is too short.  Enjoy it."  Then he left to help the rest of his crew ready the horses.

When it came time to ride, the owner told us that he would mount M last so that he would have less time to wait to ride.  M was introduced to his horse, Lucky, and we helped him on.  The front guide looped a rope between her horse and M's so that M wouldn't have to control Lucky with the reigns.  

Miss J, who had confessed to us that she was a bit nervous as we pulled up to the stable, mounted her horse with no assistance from the guides.  She sat tall in her saddle, looking like this was what she did every day of her life.  If she was feeling nervous, she certainly wasn't showing it.  She was grace and poise.  She was proud and elegant.

With all the riders mounted, we hit the trails. The guide was first, with M linked behind her.  Behind M was Miss J, then myself and Mr.A.  Behind Mr. A were the remaining eight riders.  The trail was beautiful and within the first few minutes, we encountered wild turkeys.  Our guide led us across a creek on a narrow wooden bridge and into the woods.  The terrain became more rugged.  The ground was uneven, muddy and rocky.  There were trees and thick underbrush.

My eyes were glued on M and I noticed him shifting in his saddle.  His body slowly began to list to the right and I feared he'd slide right off is horse.  

"Sit up, M!"  I shouted to the front of the line.
The guide paused and grabbed M by the butt and gave him a firm shove to upright him in the saddle.

We continued through the woods and within a few minutes, M was slipping to the side again.  Once again, the guide gave him another shove.

I could tell  M's body was fatigued.  He continued to list and his back began to slump. His body swayed
precariously on the back of the horse.  Low muscle tone and weak core muscles combined with
decreased balance and body awareness were making this harder on M than I had anticipated.  M is a big kid, but he looked so small and vulnerable on his horse.

Our horses were led up a small but steep hill.  M's body jilted backward. His feet flew upward. Somehow he managed to hold on and caught his body.

But for me, fear set in.  I pictured his body tumbling off the back of the horse and being trampled by the other horses.  I pictured him falling off the side and his head slamming into a rock.  I pictured M with unconscious and with broken bones being air lifted out of the woods.

My God, I was the worst mother on the planet.  Instead of protecting my child, I put him right into harm's way.  What was I thinking?  Whatever made me think my son could ride a horse by himself?  I should have known better.  I was overwhelmed with guilt.  I felt sick.

"I think he needs to get off!"  I yelled to the guide. My voice was thin and shrill and did not sound like my own.
At this point, I didn't care if I held up the ride for the other riders. I did not care if I created a scene.  If I had to, I would carry M out of the woods myself.  I felt myself on the verge of hysteria.

She pulled M's horse close to hers.  She righted M in his saddle yet again.
"He'll be okay.  Really. " she assured me.

The ride continued and M began to slump more.  The second guide pulled her horse along the other side of M.  M held out his hand to her and she grasped it.  For the remainder of our time on the trail, M rode with two pretty young women sandwiched on either side of him.  One woman held his horse, the other, his hand.  Together, they brought M safely back to the stable.

As our line of horses returned to the barn, the owner greeted us. He was beaming.  To me, he said,
"Look at his face, mama!  Look at your face! This is what it is all about!"

By now, M was off Lucky (whom I thanked for living up to her name) and safely on the ground and I could finally breathe.

The stable sold horseshoes and Miss J asked if she and M could have one.  I gave her a few bills and told her to buy two as I settled M in the car.  She returned with the two horseshoes and the money.  She told me the owner refused her money.  He told her that she and M were special kids and that he wouldn't take their money.  He told her to come back again for a ride any time.

I began to think about what the stable owner had said to me, 
"This is what is it all about."  
"Life is too short."  
"Enjoy every minute."

He is right.

As parents, of course we worry about our children.  We worry about their safety and their well being, especially as they grow older and spread their wings and leave the protection of our arms.

There is much I will never worry about with M....
I will never have to worry him getting behind the wheel of a car and driving.
I will never have to worry about him getting wasted at a frat party in college.
I will never have to worry about him traveling with his friends, without me, across Europe.

M will likely live out his life close to me, where I will serve as his protector and his guardian.

M deserved the experience of riding the horse solo.  He deserved it and I needed it.  I need to release him just a little bit and allow him this experience. I had to let him take a chance, take a risk and live a little. (How different my thinking became once he was off the horse on safely on the ground!)

To the ranch owner, thank you for giving us something we could experience as a whole family.  Thank you for giving my boy an amazing memory....and peace to the memory of yours.

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