THE FIFTY-CENT RIDE

THE FIFTY-CENT RIDE

From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Fifty-Cent Ride

Life is what happens, after you make other plans.

Ralph Marston

“Big,” whispered my tiny three-year-old granddaughter as she gazed up at the palomino Quarter Horse. She clutched her mother’s knee and hesitantly reached out to touch the mare. The horse’s nicker and swish of tail caused her to giggle. Her delight reminded me of her mother. I was awash with memories.

“We want to ride a horse,” our five-year-old twin daughters begged repeatedly on a trip to Colorado. Never mind that none of us had been closer to a horse than a carousel, TV, or a movie screen. Seeing a hand-painted sign for trail rides, we decided to indulge them just once. The rancher led us to what looked like a tired, old brown horse.

“She’s my calmest mare. You can lead her around that circular path over there.” He pointed past an ancient oak tree to a clearing of dirt and scrub pines. “Let your little girls take turns while you keep hold of the reins,” he advised, then added, “That’ll be fifty cents.”

It was the most expensive fifty cents we ever spent.

We gave him two quarters and started our walk, each of our daughters having a turn in the saddle. They were enthralled and talked of nothing else on the entire trip home to California.

“Can we take lessons?” they asked constantly in the weeks that followed.

“We’ll see.” I said, evading their question, “Let’s go to dance class first.”

“Okay. But then can we ride?”

“We’ll talk to Daddy.” Fortunately, he was out of town.

So they began six weeks of ballet classes and enjoyed them. Still, the constant quest was to ride again. I hoped their passion for horses would pass.

“You need to try gymnastics, first.” I told them.

“Why?”

“Well . . .” I stammered as I struggled for an answer to our persistent little girls, “you just need to learn about balance and stuff.”

They stared at me, nodded and together said, “Then can we ride horses?”

“We’ll see.” My standby answer was becoming a little weak.

Gymnastics was less of a hit than dance. Why could they sit so straight and tall in a saddle high on a horse’s back, yet a stationary balance beam caused such fear they clung to it with both arms and legs like a panther to a tree limb? They were not charmed. Months passed as I dragged them to swimming and then tennis lessons and on to art and piano. They learned, but without great enthusiasm, always asking, “When can we ride?”

We finally found a stable with rental horses and lessons. I assumed they’d tire of riding in a few weeks as they had their other classes. No such luck. The girls spent rainy weeks learning how to groom the horses, climbing up on stools to brush them, lifting each leg and bracing it between their own as they picked hooves. They learned to hold their hands flat when they offered apple treats. Too small to bridle and saddle, they watched the grooms with rapt interest and quickly learned.

Rainy season passed, the sun came out and at last, it was time to ride. They were given a leg up and each sat high atop a horse’s back. They look so tiny up there, I thought. Clicking their tongues and tightening their legs as they’d been instructed, they moved forward into the arena, eyes shining, mouths in tentative smiles of pride and excitement. They seemed completely and naturally at home there. I shook my head and knew we were in for a long ride.

Within months, one of our daughters fell off her runaway horse. Bruises and scrapes covered her small body and her sister was pale and wide-eyed from watching. A call to the doctor was soon followed by a trip to the hospital and emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen. Our little girl had not only fallen off the horse, she had fallen under it. After an interminable hour, the surgeon walked toward us with a smile on his face, assuring us our daughter would be fine. “Can you guess what her first words in the recovery room were?” We shook our heads. “She gazed up at me and whispered, ‘When can I ride?’”

“Never!” I uttered, without even thinking.

“Oh, you have to let her ride again—her sister, too. Don’t forget that old saying,” the doctor reminded us, “when you fall from a horse you should get right on again.”

They were soon back on horses, those of their own—a palomino Quarter Horse and a chestnut Thoroughbred. The girls rode well and entered local horse shows, serving as grooms for each other. It was a world apart from any we had ever known and as the years flew by we enjoyed the camaraderie and family togetherness. There were the 4 a.m. wakeups, special baths and braiding for the horses, unique outfits and hair styles for the girls, hours driving to the arenas, dirt and sweat, frustration and work. But mostly there was the joy.

Our daughters were enthralled with every aspect of riding. It was a beautiful sight to see them ride, to watch as they became part of their horses’ flowing motions, lost in subtle communication and concentration. It became obvious that they had special gifts and inborn passion. They would have found their way to horses even if we hadn’t opened the door long ago with that fifty-cent ride.

“Nana, look at me!” Our granddaughter sat high on the golden mare, her arms relaxed and her legs spread wide with her toes tucked in as she balanced perfectly.

The vision brought me full circle. As with our daughters, her enchantment was there, the beginning of full-grown passion. I looked up at her and took her hand while her mother gently led us around the arena. Here we go again, I thought and this time, I smiled.

Jean Stewart

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