From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

The risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.

Anais Nin

“If you’ll sit back more, it will help your horse get off her forehand.” I grit my teeth and attempt to lift my upper body up and back the requisite amount, all the while keeping the trotting horse moving forward.

“Your arms are locked. You’ve got to relax your shoulders and allow your horse to move. That’s why she’s so tense.”

My shoulders are not locked, I want to shout. The horse is tense because . . . because . . . because she wants to be tense!

“Do you want me to ride her?”

I pull the mare to a halt, turn and walk over to the rail. A thousand angry words rampage dangerously close to the surface but I swallow them back, wipe the scowl from my face and slide off. “Okay,” I say, keeping my voice steady. With forbearance that would have pleased Mother Teresa, I humbly hand the reins over to my daughter.

With glazed eyes I watch as she lithely mounts the 16-hand Thoroughbred, something I haven’t been able to do without assistance in years. In moments, the mare has stopped her head tossing and is calmly moving forward. As they move into a springy trot, my daughter sings out, “This trot would get good scores at First Level!”

Wow, how time changes things. Was it only ten years ago that this same child cried every time I tried to get her to canter her pony?Wasn’t I the one who taught her how to saddle and bridle that pony, who taught her correct riding position, who encouraged her to see things from the pony’s perspective? And yet, here I stand, watching her whirl around the arena on my new horse, my emotions a strange combination of injured pride over my own deficient skills and incredible pride in what I see before me.

For my child has grown. Not just physically, but in subtle, hard-to-define ways. The fearful little girl has given way to a confident young woman who is excelling, not only in her horsemanship, but in other aspects of her life as well. She’s learned to work hard, that success doesn’t come easily and that fears can be overcome. And much of this growth has occurred, I am convinced, because of her early and continued involvement with horses. But there has been another, quite unexpected, benefit to our shared passion for these large and wonderful creatures.

Heather and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. I am a talker; she’s quiet. I am nostalgic; she’s overwhelmingly practical. I am overly concerned with what others think and feel; she really isn’t. Often we clash. But our mutual love of horses has opened a door of communication between us that might not have occurred any other way.

We’ve been to the mountaintop, she and I, literally and figuratively. Thanks to our horses, we’ve seen sights that many never see and have memories we share with no one else. Most of the memories are good, but some are painful. When that first sassy pony was sold, I don’t know who cried more. When my blind Appaloosa died in an accident, Heather didn’t say much but I knew she understood.

Life goes on and people change. Healthy relationships grow; they cannot be static and hope to survive. In my less defensive moments, I am thankful for this. Even this reversed relationship of teacher-student has its upsides. In my first dressage show, on her horse, it was Heather who warmed the horse up, handed out coaching tips, read my test and collected that coveted ribbon. Some people pay big bucks for such professional assistance!

But I’m still conflicted. Long before I was a mother, I was a horse lover. I grew up reading The Black Stallion and watching My Friend Flicka on television every Saturday morning. But I also grew up in a working-class family where the idea of owning something as extravagant as a horse could not even be considered. I remember my father telling my mother to not worry, I would soon grow out of this silly stage. Thirty-plus years later, I still haven’t grown out of it!

I did grow up though and followed the path of many wellmeaning parents. I tried to give my child all the things I so desperately wanted when I was young. And it’s been a good investment; she’s doing well, loves her horse and riding and even contemplates horses as a vocation someday. But meanwhile, I’m still standing on the sidelines, wishing I were young and thin and flexible—that I was capable of doing what she now does so effortlessly.

And depression almost overtakes me, until a new thought works its way through the haze of my self-pity. As I remember all the lessons I paid for, all the times I sat watching and listening from the sidelines, it occurs to me that I don’t have to feel sorry for myself, that I might still be able to benefit from the years and dollars spent in helping her reach her riding goals. If I can swallow my pride (a big if) and listen to what she has to say, I can be a step closer to my own goals, as well. It’s a comforting thought.

And not too far down the road, just around the corner, in fact, college and “real life” looms for my daughter. I’ll cry when she goes. Then I’ll dry my eyes, pull on my boots and head for the barn. Because finally, after all these years, it’s going to be my turn!

Dawn Hill

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