“What are you going to do?”; “When are you going to be back?”. The answers to these questions are, invariably, “I don’t know!” and “Sometime in the afternoon?” After receiving this reply, Julie, Maya’s mom, said, “You’re making me a little nervous.” But the truth is I didn’t know. We had a number of choices today. Most of the good trails are too muddy to ride, but we did have time to make it to Rhus Ridge (beautiful, not muddy, but time consuming ride). A shorter trail was an option, but that would have had to have been along side the roads; not always so much fun. The third option was playing games in the arena, but that depended on whether or not anyone else needed to use it at the same time and, ultimately, the decision was up to the girls (who, today, consisted of Maya, Shana and Claire). As for timing? Three quarters of the year, riding and horse time is squeezed in between school, homework, dinner, piano lessons and soccer/baseball/volleyball schedules. With a break in the rain and a break in the school schedule, all we really needed to do was to get back before dark, the actual time being determined by how hungry everybody gets how fast.
After setting the problem of what to do in front of the girls, it was decided that we set off for the arena. If was occupied, we’d continue on the pathways. If not, we’d play games.
After a week of rain, the horses were so edgy they were, on our ride to the arena, spooking at specks of dust. We got lucky and got the arena to ourselves. The girls, being the wise, well trained ten year-olds that they are, decided to turn the horses lose first and with very little prompting (the girls had armed themselves with dressage and/or lunge whips), we were treated to our own private rodeo show as Freedom, Stoney and Cowgirl bucked and twirled and cavorted about the arena. (Chavali was tied outside because she is just a little too spastic for that many horses in the arena at the same time.)
There was one set of blocks and a couple of poles in the middle of the arena. Claire turned to me and said, “Can we set up a jump for the horses?” This quickly progressed into setting up a jump that spanned the entire arena; in one long line. It included several barrels, all of the traffic cones (7?), multiple poles, half a dozen jump blocks and one long, triangular jump made out of a green patio shade.
Stoney had no trouble negotiating the obstacle, deftly jumping it sideways. Cowgirl and Freedom took quite a lot longer. Cowgirl, fine pony that she is, figured out how to nimbly squeeze between the cones. Freedom eventually knocked over one of the poles. Chavali, who is not the brightest bulb, took forever to breech the barrier, but did so as if it was five feet tall.
This was all great fun for the girls who, after two or three successful “round up and overs”, asked me to start timing them. It was team penning a la kidslovehorses.
They could have chased the horse over jumps all afternoon, but they did indeed want to spend some time riding. Also, a rider had approached the ring, meaning it was time to clip on the lead ropes and pull in the ponies. I didn’t need to do much with rounding up the horses, so I chatted with the waiting rider for a few minutes before turning around to look at the arena again. Much to my amazement, Maya, Shana and Claire, had pulled every obstacle, every pole and every cone out of the arena, carefully and considerately tidying up the arena after their fun.
Stoney and Freedom were tacked up quickly, but Cowgirl takes a little more attention. Maya, on Stoney, and Shana, on Freedom, started playing the next game, which consisted of trotting rapidly back and forth across the arena, while Claire and I proceeded with the laborious process of getting Cowgirl to agree to tolerate the saddle (which consists of two inches of temperpedic foam topped by an inch of sheep skin). Shana and Maya were doing just fine and having a grand time. But for whatever reason, when Claire and Cowgirl trotted over to join in, Freedom decided this was his cue to play. He tossed his head and suddenly jumped to the side. This took Shana completely by surprise and, hardly even knowing what happened, she landed, hard, on the ground (which took Freedom by surprise). Everyone stopped immediately. Shana and I sat on the ground, waiting and breathing, with Shana very shaken up and with Claire and Maya, still mounted, looking on.
The arena is eight inches of sand; the first two being loose, the second six being sealed and compacted; on top of crushed rock on top of soil. It is extremely shock absorbent and, in such capacity, other than beach sand or snow, provides a surface upon which it is almost impossible to incur serious injury. And so it was with Shana.
After five or ten minutes of sitting and settling it was clear there was no serious injury. I looked up at Claire and Maya and said, gravely “You know what comes next?” They replied, in unison and with complete empathy, “she has to get back on.” Shana did just that, but we walked only and with me by her side.
As a fall can be a huge shock to the confidence, I then asked her to ride around the arena, without me, on Cowgirl. As her father had arrived to pick her up, this consisted of only one lap around the arena. But something amazing happened. For that lap, Maya and Claire (on Stoney and Freedom), in a spontaneous show of emotional support and solidarity, flanked Shana. They rode in perfect drill formation for the entire lap, comforting their fellow equestrian with their care and presence. Sometimes those girls make me so proud!