“Where are you? Are you coming to the arena?” The answer to the first question was, “running down a pathway trying to keep up with five, trotting horses.” To answer the second question; we were heading away from, not to the arena. Aria doesn’t meet us at the arena every week and she’s only four. Eleven year-old Molly has taken a shine to her. She leads Aria around on the pony for fifteen or twenty minutes at the end of our time at the arena. Then we always leave and leave a distraught Aria for who would probably eat and sleep on top of the pony if she could. But she’s too young for anything in the way of instruction and it’s just not safe to cart one so young around on the trails. I hadn’t exactly forgotten Aria. I was expecting her the following week. Even so, I felt badly.
“Are you available at 2:30?” They were. “Can you meet me at the dirt patch behind Gardener Bullis School?” They could.
The “dirt patch” was, at one point, an honest to goodness arena. I’m sure at some point “The Town” will build something one it, fence it off or put in an off limits to horses sports field. But for the time being, it’s being used as a dumping ground for dirt from town construction projects and in this capacity, makes a fabulous horsey play place and an ideal spot for walking a four year-old around on a pony.
The Saturday morning riders finished their trot around the pathways, which included cantering, multiple times, across Clark’s field, ending up exhausted and happy at the Jensen’s barn. Savannah departed for a christening party. Molly and Elizabeth went back home to Elizabeth’s house where they would, most likely, continue playing at being horses. Julia and Victoria stayed at the barn, fed lunch to horses, ate lunch themselves, mended a horse blanket, and rested, then headed back out, with me, Stoney, Cowgirl and Freedom, to the “dirt patch” behind the school.
The day was cold and brisk. Stoney was full pep and Victoria charged around gleefully. Julia had decided to work at riding bareback and wasn’t charging around and fortunately, for her, Freedom seems less influenced by the weather than Stoney.
Aria finally showed up, with mom, dad and older brother in tow. The look of desperation on her tiny, brown face was heart wrenching. When they arrived at the arena to find it empty, Aria has been beside herself. Four years old and she had been counting the days until she got to ride Cowgirl again; her life was revolving around it.
Aria is not content to just sit there and bounce, like most kids. She actually wants to learn how to ride. She holds her hand up and off the saddle when I tell her to; she is trying with all her might to learn to post.
Victoria charged, Julia balanced and Aria bounced/posted for about half an hour until I felt like I just couldn’t stand anymore, at which point we all headed back for the barn to call it a day. Julia put Freedom back in the pasture. Then it was time for Julia and Victoria to take Stoney and Cowgirl back to the barn at Quail Lane. Aria tiny, brown fingers gripped the pommel of Cowgirl’s saddle as if her life depended on it. She looked stricken, after all, she’d almost not gotten to ride. I said, “In a perfect world, Aria, you’d get to ride everyday.” Victoria added, “and I wouldn’t go to school and I’d ride all day everyday!” Ignoring the interruption, I continues with, “but the world is as it is and that means you get to ride once a week.”
After Julia and Victoria rode off, Aria, being held in her mother’s arms, got a tour of the barn at Campo Vista. Then we got to go to Quail.
Victoria and Julia had already gotten Cowgirl and Stoney untacked and were cleaning the paddock in preparation to feed. Unlike the barn at Campo Vista, at Quail, the kids can roam to their hearts content and roam she did and so did her six year-old brother; through the orchard, up and down the paddock, in and out of the tack shack, around and around both of the horses. Aria stood blissfully leaning against Cowgirl’s leg in the aisle of the barn. The sun had set. Between the cover of the aisle, the onset of night, Aria’s dark skin and black hair, her face was almost invisible. I was sitting, keeping my distance, at the base of the driveway. I hollered out to her, “Are you happy yet?” Barely indistinguishable as she was, you could still tell that she was beaming.
The last task of the evening was to give Cowgirl her pergolide pill. This involved going into the hay room. Julia, Victoria, Aria and the brother all disappeared into said room. They did not emerge with the pill. They stayed and stayed. But it really was late. Aria’s mother opened the door and gave her the “five minute warning.” I asked what they were doing. They had not forgotten about the medication, but they had gotten sidetracked by drawing pictures on the white board.
I told Aria that it really was time to go because I had to go pee and, unlike her, it wasn’t fitting for an adult to pee in the paddock. This was true, but I would have said so even if it wasn’t because it was one of the few explanations that a four year-old will understand and justification for sympathy. Aria has gone home to, again, count the days until Saturday and the barn at Quail lane now has a very nicely decorated white board.