Lessons I learned at the barn have given me the con­fi­dence to face life’s chal­lenges.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Katie Nel­son

Pos­i­tive think­ing:

Lessons I learned at the barn have given me the con­fi­dence to face life’s chal­lenges.

As my mother pulled into the drive, I leapt out of the car be­fore it had even stopped. Fi­nally, I had turned 13, and I was old enough to start work­ing at the barn. For years, I had envied the older girls who helped the younger kids get the school horses ready for lessons. These les­son-helpers, as we called them, also got to catch and bring in horses from the enor­mous pas­ture where they spent their days.

My boss met me as soon as I en­tered the barn and said, “Could you go out and catch Ras­cal?”

I felt my­self nod in­stinc­tively---and then she was gone. I had my first as­sign­ment. With a mix­ture of ex­cite­ment and anx­i­ety I turned and walked out the door, my hands so sweaty I could barely turn the han­dle. I so wanted ev­ery­thing to go right.

To my re­lief, I quickly caught Ras­cal and he fol­lowed me qui­etly through the pas­ture. But as we ap­proached the gate, he pricked his ears, raised his head and stopped. I tried to con­tinue, eyes on the muddy ground ahead, but Ras­cal wouldn’t budge. He rocked back on his hindquar­ters, braced him­self against the rope and re­fused to take even one step closer to the gate.

Turn­ing to face the geld­ing, I tugged on the rope again and again, but to no avail. Ras­cal sim­ply stared at me and dug his hooves into the dirt. My heart pounded as I felt the be­gin­nings of panic ris­ing in my stom­ach.

Then the thrum of an engine split the morn­ing air. I looked up to see a rusty blue pickup com­ing to a stop nearby. The driver was the owner of the farm.

He stepped out of the truck, winc­ing slightly, and gave me a wry smile be­fore ask­ing if I needed some as­sis­tance. I ad­mit­ted that I did and watched as he calmly led Ras­cal through the gate. The old geld­ing low­ered his head and let out a sigh as he walked through.

Still smil­ing, the owner turned to me and said gen­tly, “If you’re scared, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Some things you just can’t do alone.”

I nod­ded fer­vently, mute with a mix­ture of re­lief and em­bar­rass­ment as he handed me the rope and climbed back into the truck.

“And, young lady,” he added, rolling down the win­dow, “don’t ever look at the ground when you’re work­ing with horses. It don’t mat­ter if you’re scared to death; you just gotta look up and be­lieve, and these guys’ll fol­low CON­FI­DENCE: you any­where.” Katie Nel­son I opened my guides her mouth, re­al­ized mare, Snip, I was still far too through a shy to speak, and jump­ing nod­ded again. course. The truck rum­bled off, and I headed back to the barn with my eyes up and my shoul­ders square.

Not long af­ter that day, I passed an­other mile­stone in the equine world: I got a horse of my own. Snip was a beau­ti­ful mare with no­ble blood­lines, a shiny dark coat and pow­er­ful build. I would never have been able to af­ford such a horse, but Snip had de­vel­oped the nasty habit of sud­denly dodg­ing and spin­ning, much to the cha­grin of her riders. Soon, the in­struc­tors were hard pressed to find stu­dents will­ing to ride the mare, and so she spent a year out in the pas­ture with min­i­mal hu­man con­tact.

Re­mem­ber­ing the ad­vice I’d re­ceived, I asked the head in­struc­tor for help. By the end of our first win­ter to­gether, Snip had blos­somed into an ath­letic and loyal part­ner, the en­ergy that had once sent her skit­ter­ing about redi­rected to work­ing cat­tle and show jump­ing.

With spring came the re­open­ing of the out­door ring and the op­por­tu­nity to work on our jump­ing. One sunny April af­ter­noon, I ar­rived to see my in­struc­tor rolling a large blue bar­rel across the

arena. She placed it be­tween two bright green jump stan­dards, and with a sink­ing feel­ing, I re­al­ized that she ex­pected Snip and me to jump it. Granted, we had been do­ing very well in our lessons, but we had been hop­ping over cross rails. This bar­rel was much larger---at two feet high--and far more solid than any cross rail we had faced be­fore.

“I want you to take the pink fence first, loop around and jump the red com­bi­na­tion, and then go for the bar­rel,” my in­struc­tor said af­ter we had warmed up. I nod­ded and can­tered off, tak­ing a deep breath and try­ing to re­lax. We eas­ily cleared the pink jump, and popped over the two red jumps one right af­ter the other in good bal­ance. Then I turned Snip to face the bar­rel and be­gan to can­ter down the mid­dle of the arena. With three strides to go, I felt my stom­ach turn over as I looked down at the solid bar­rier. Surely Snip was go­ing to refuse, and then I would fall off and….

Mud flew as Snip locked her knees and slid to a stop. I flew for­ward and landed on the ground in a heap. Un­hurt but em­bar­rassed, I climbed to my feet to face the in­struc­tor, who was hold­ing Snip’s reins. “Let’s try just the bar­rel again,” she said as she gave me a leg up. “I know that this horse will jump it if we set her up nice and straight.”

So off I can­tered in a big half cir­cle un­til I was again headed straight to­ward the bar­rel. “Sit up and look up!” the in­struc­tor called, and I raised my eyes ten­ta­tively to­ward the hori­zon. We were four strides away when I felt Snip start to hes­i­tate, flick­ing her ears back to­ward me as if to say, Are you sure this is a good idea? I glanced down and felt my con­fi­dence wane, too.

This time I was ready when she slammed on the brakes. I threw my weight back and my legs for­ward to brace my­self and grabbed her mane. I was still thrown onto her neck, but I man­aged to hang there like a mon­key un­til Snip low­ered her head to the ground and gen­tly de­posited me onto the dirt.

“You know, if you look down at the ground when you’re rid­ing, you are go­ing to end up there,” said my in­struc­tor with an amused smile. “If you want to make it over that jump, you need to look up and be­lieve that you are go­ing to land on the other side in one piece. Let’s do it again, and this time, no sec­ond-guess­ing your­self.”

I nod­ded and can­tered off for a third time, try­ing to breathe deep and re­lax. As we turned onto the straight­away, I sat up, rolling my shoul­ders back and push­ing my heels down. Draw­ing closer, Snip be­gan to hes­i­tate again, her ears flick­ing back­ward and her stride los­ing its mo­men­tum. This time, how­ever, I had an an­swer: “This is a good idea, be­cause we are go­ing to land on the other side,” I whis­pered as I squeezed my legs against her sides and looked up and across the arena, trust­ing in my horse.

Mud flew as Snip locked her knees and slid to a stop. I flew for­ward and landed on the ground in a heap.

This time, Snip didn’t stop. She pushed off hard, tuck­ing her knees neatly as we sailed over the bar­rel to land lightly on the other side.

To­day, there’s an­other bar­rel in my path. A new chap­ter of my life is com­ing, and I can feel my ap­pre­hen­sion grow­ing. Col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions are due, there will be schol­ar­ships to ap­ply for, big de­ci­sions to make--and then I’ll be liv­ing on my own for the first time.

I’m on the straight­away now, and as the days go by I ride ever closer to my next chal­lenge. Are you sure this is a good idea? I ask my­self. I take a deep breath, look up to­ward the hori­zon and be­lieve I will land on the other side.

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