I was about nine years old when I fell off a horse.
Toby was sturdy, white. A gelding, I think. Liked trotting more than walking. Cantering more than trotting.
Toby belonged to Cynthia, my instructor. She had a small, sandy ring to the left of her rambling white farmhouse in a rural, sprawling part of Maine.
The day I fell, Maine was nothing but yellow sun, blue sky, green grass. A perfect day, Cynthia decided, to ride Toby bareback around the farmhouse grounds. I needed to understand how the horse moved in the world.
So, Toby and I went walking out of the saddle, out of the ring. Walking turned to trotting. When we came to a small cornfield, trotting turned to cantering. And I lost my understanding for how the horse moved in the world. And fell off into the corn stalks.
Cynthia shot over. Saw nothing broken or bloody. Just a rattled nine-year old with dirt stains in a cornfield.
“Get back on the horse.” Cynthia thumped Toby’s back twice. I stared at her. If ever I’d earned the right to go home early, this was it.
She stared right back. “Get on the horse.” It was a statement: The sun rises in the east. You get back on the horse.
“But -” I pointed to my dirt stains. I’d known falling was possible. But now it wasn’t a threat out in the blue sky. It was real. A living, breathing fear.
“Get. On.” Her words were unyielding. “You don’t leave after a fall.” I was going to lose this fight. I got back on the horse.
And in her unyielding way, Cynthia had told me the truth about horse falls: You go home early, you bow to fear. You get back on the horse, you bow to something a whole lot bigger. Something like guts and curiosity and that mix of muscle and heart it takes to put fear in its place.
I finished my lesson. Got off the horse. And went home with my dirt stains. Knowing a little more about how horses and people could move in the world.