58: Riding Free

58: Riding Free

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Riding Free

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.

~Winston Churchill

Everything went wrong the last few months just before seventh grade came to a close. My mom was ill and she was getting worse. And then I found out we were moving. I wouldn’t be able to start eighth grade in West L.A. with my friends. We were moving to Redondo Beach, which sounded fun, but I’d be alone. Could life get any more depressing?

Relief came when my dad asked me if I wanted to go to summer camp in Arizona. My best friend Ginnie was also going. Suddenly my world held a small glimmer of hope. It would be a five-week camp with horseback riding, trips to the Grand Canyon, swimming and canoeing.

Even though I’d miss home, I was eager to escape from my sad feelings about moving.

Camp turned out to be an adventure I’ll remember forever. Arizona was sunny and beautiful. Flagstaff has gorgeous mountains as well as green meadows. I met new friends. Being from L.A., a lot of celebrities sent their kids there as well. My cabin mates included the daughter of a TV star as well as the daughters of the owner of a well known Napa winery and a very famous child star.

The most exciting thing for me was being able to ride the horses. On the day we were free to do whatever we wanted, my friend Pam and I strode over to the stables.

“Trust me, you’ll love this,” she said as we made our way down the trail to the barn that was on the other side of the campgrounds. “If you want to own a horse one day, you’ll need to learn how to catch and saddle one.”

They were beautiful. I could see about seven horses roaming around in a large ring. They were letting in two girls at a time to learn how to put on the tack — a harness over the horse’s head — and, oh my gosh, real Western saddles! Each girl had a ranch hand to help her. We stood in line. When it was our turn, there were three horses left for us to choose from. There was a beautiful white horse, one black and white one, and a brown and white one at the far side of the ring. I couldn’t see her face but she would occasionally look back, as if to say, “Don’t bother me. I want nothing to do with any of you.” As an only child and a loner, I knew how she felt.

All of a sudden my stomach knotted. I’d ridden a horse only a couple of other times in my life, and had absolutely no idea how to “break and saddle” a horse. These were no docile creatures. They avoided being captured and harnessed and wanted no part of being tamed by us girls.

One of the helpers walked up to me and handed me the harness. He quietly gave me some instructions on how to approach the animal and put the tack over its head and then secure it. He backed away. I was alone in the ring with all three horses.

“Choose the pretty white one, Kim,” I heard Pam call out. I started toward the white horse, but she looked bored. The brown and white loner was the one I was drawn to.

I stopped walking and stood still. The brown and white horse watched me. She moved from the far side of the ring and began slowly walking toward me. I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there. I heard the guy call out, “Go slow and easy. This one can be difficult.” I looked at the horse and our eyes locked.

She seemed to challenge me to dare to put the harness on her. But, as we had been shown, I slowly lifted the reins and placed them easily over her head. I smiled at her. “Good girl,” I said to both of us.

“Good work, Kim,” the ranch hand called out. He slowly approached us, and then helped me saddle her up. I climbed on her back and he led us out of the ring.

“Off you go,” the man said. I leaned down and whispered to her. “Let’s get out of here.” We started at a prance that quickly turned into a full gallop. Instead of being terrified I became exhilarated.

We took off through the meadows with the sun beaming down on us and the wind whipping through my hair. I held on tight. I looked around at the treeless meadow and watched as everything went by in a whoosh. As I let the horse have her stead, I blended into her. We were both racing to a better place, an exciting adventure where promises lay ahead and everything would be okay.

I’d never felt so free and alive.

I closed my eyes and completely let go of my fears. After a few seconds I realized I had tears running down my face. I felt so happy. I made a mental note to remember this moment for the rest of my life.

The horse seemed to know where she was going and we trotted back to the barn. I patted her and whispered, “We’ll be okay, girl.”

As camp progressed, I had the time of my life. It gave me happiness and a freedom I’ve cherished since that moment. I still had to begin eighth grade with strangers and my mom never did regain her health, but the time at camp was the happiest five-week period of my life.

~Kimberly Kimmel

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