The first week of high school. It’s filled with fear and anticipation. Most of us have or will experience this feeling at one time or another. But as we find out, things usually turn out okay.
I was feeling pretty good as I came home off the bus that friday, my first official week of freshman year completed successfully without any mishaps. Everything was going to be okay, I had thought. The sun was still bright in the sky and I could feel its warmth on my arms as I reached for the key and unlocked the front door. I could already hear the chorus of my mother’s three small dogs, ankle biters some people like to call them, as I turned the key in the lock. I opened the door and was met by a swarm of wiggling tails, fluffy ears and wet tongues.
Closing the door behind me, I set my backpack already filled with homework onto the porch floor. Sighing, I walked into the kitchen and filled one of mom’s clear plastic cups with water before walking into the well-lit living room where my mom was sitting in a lazy-boy recliner reading her daily newspaper.
“Hey mom,” I said unenthusiastically. She looked up from the newspaper and smiled.I see her face already showing laugh lines and wrinkles, yet still looking like the same mom I’ve always known.
“Hey honey, how was school?” she asked, setting her newspaper aside on the small side table.
“Good, but I have homework.” I mumbled, spitting the word homework out %like it was taboo.
Mom laughed, “I know what we should do then, let’s go riding. That will cheer you up. Go get the horses saddled up, I’ll be right out.” Practically running, I tugged on my riding boots and bolted out the door, not bothering to stop for a helmet or gloves. I slowed myself down as I got out toward the barn and finally reached the pasture. I was greeted by the *sound of sixteen thundering hooves, and for those of us who are bad at math, that means four horses. I pushed open the rough wooden barn door, faded with age and weather. I grabbed two halters from the nails on the wall, one blue and one pink. I stepped back out into the afternoon light and pushed open the gate.
“You guys, move out of the way, honestly.” I waved my arms to signal to the horses to back up from the gate as I tried in vain to open it successfully. I finally pushed my way through and got into the paddock.
“Shasta, Apollo, come here.” I said, in hopes Magick and Dancer, would somehow understand that they weren’t being fed like they thought. I quickly slipped the pink halter onto the mare, Shasta, my mother’s somewhat short horse. She was a lovely chestnut color, with a golden mane and tail. She dipped her head down, resting it on my shoulder as I slipped the buckle into the third hole of her halter. I quickly snapped a lead rope onto the small hoop at the bottom and then walked over to Apollo. Apollo was my newest horse, a slightly taller gelding, and a stunning golden color over his entire body like a sunflower, with a white mane and tail. His eyes were a deep chocolate brown filled with kindness.
“It’s okay boy, I’m just gonna put this halter on, and we are gonna go for a little ride.” I murmured before gently sliding it onto his nose and over his ears. I snapped another lead rope onto Apollo’s halter and led the two horses out, quickly turning around after making sure they were clear of the gate to keep the other two in. As we walked to the trailer sitting beside the barn, the other two horses nickered to their friends as if they may never see them again. I finally reached the trailer and I tied the horses to the bright red hooks, one on each end. I efficiently tied slip knots that could easily be undone in case a horse spooked or fell as I had been taught. As I walked back to the barn to grab the grooming kit, I saw my mother appear from around the corner of the house, her ankle biters trailing behind her.
I walked into the barn and grabbed the grooming kit from a shelf on the dusty, cobweb infested barn wall and walked back to the horses. When I returned, mom was already busy getting tack, which was all the saddles and bridles, and setting it out on the ground beside the horses. Quickly, she set about her routine of saddling and bridling her horse. I watched her with awe as I often did, amazed at how little effort it seemed to take her as her hands, worn with years of work and beginning to succumb to arthritis on cold days, somehow tied those small knots and put every buckle in its place. I watched as she so nimbly lifted her saddle and flung it on her horse’s back, her small, short frame greatly outsized in width by the saddle yet so easily she seemed to handle it with grace. I quickly did the same, saddling and bridling Apollo. Mom looked nervous as I unhooked him from the trailer and placed my foot in the stirrup.
“Maybe I should just lead you around first, we don’t really know him that well yet,” she stated as she stroked Shasta’s face, her fingers knotting in her mane.
“Okay, just untie his leadrope.” I nodded to the rope now dangling from the hook where he had been tied. She undid the rope and snapped it back onto Apollo’s halter and led us away to the west pasture, where there were no horses. As she opened the steel bar gate, and let the chain fall, Apollo spooked, jumping to the side. I grasped the horn of my saddle, and quickly pulled back on my reins. He quieted quickly and I let him stand for a few minutes to relax before I urged him forward into the pasture. Mom walked at a fast pace beside us, with the rope dangling loosely from her hands. Her dogs ran freely around us, sniffing the old piles of dung and they occasionally ran off to chase imaginary squirrels.I smelled the sweet late summer air, the smell of leather, polish, and the scent of grain and hay surronding me.As we circled the pasture for the third time, the sun was starting to wane and I was beginning to think I could go on my own soon. As one of my mother’s dog sprinted past, it ran right beneath Apollo’s stomach. He spooked, his hind feet going into the air and sending me soaring from my saddle. All I could think mid-flight was “Land on your side, protect your head.” And I did just that. Unfortunately, this also led to my arm snapping. I knew as soon as I hit the ground that it was broke, the familiar sting made me cradle it close to my body as I rolled onto my back, the memories of previous broken bones flooding my mind; my right arm twice, my tail bone, and my right ankle. I could taste the dirt in my mouth. But that was momentarily forgotten as I tried to sit up to watch Apollo and my mother as she struggled to contain him, as he reared, bucked and finally she lost her grip and he galloped from the pasture and my sights.
Soon my mother’s voice came into my consciousness, and she ran to my side.
“Everything is gonna be okay, Emily, where does it hurt? Your arm? Can you move?” Tears started to roll down her cheeks, as I’m sure she blamed herself for what had just happened. The tears roll down her face, slipping into the wrinkles and nooks and crannies. I took a deep breath and sat up, pain shooting from my arm and right knee. I looked down at my arm for the first time and noticed it was crooked and bent like a broken crayon.My mother’s hands reach out to steady me. I was grateful then more than ever for their strength as she supported me. By this time my father had driven the van out to the pasture, as he had heard my mom yelling and saw the horse running riderless. My parents helped me stand and climb gingerly into the car.
As my father buckled me in, his large, rough, calloused hands struggling with the seat belt, I suddenly remembered the horse.
I watched my mother gently walk up to Apollo, running her hands gently along his neck before firmly grasping the lead rope. I watched her walk him back to the trailer and unsaddle him, take off his bridle and then lead him back into the pasture and let him go.
I started to think back to what had just happened as I wait for my mother to walk back to the van. Apollo spooked when one of the dog’s ran underneath of him. My best guess is he had at one point been bitten by a dog, and he now was afraid of them. I didn’t blame him for his past experiences. But I knew now that because of what had just happened mom wasn’t going to be happy, and he wasn’t going to work for us. We almost always rode with the dogs, and if Apollo was afraid of them, he would need to find a new home.
My mom climbed into the back of the van and slid the door shut, her body sagged into the seat. My dad put the van in drive and headed for the hospital. My mother looked older now with worry. I studied her in the rearview mirror on the drive into town. The lines in her face seemed more defined somehow, and her hands shook slightly as she grasped the seat belt next to her chest. No parent wants to see their child get hurt. She had always been strong for me, but as we pulled into the hospital drive through and the nurses appeared to help me to the nearest emergency room bed I saw tears welling in her eyes again. Now it was my turn to be strong for my mother.
I looked at my arm again as the nurses started to move around me, probing. I winced as they reached my knee, which I would later learn was sprained, and yelped when they went to put a thermometer on my broken middle finger. I hadn’t felt the pain of my finger through the pain of my arm. As I sat waiting for the x-rays, I smiled. I may be in pain now, but I knew everything was going to alright. My arm would heal, and I would be back to riding in no time. My mom walked in and asked how I was doing, looking with worry at my swollen arm.
“I’m gonna be alright, mom.” I said, smiling up at her. Her face relaxed, looking more like the mom I was used to. Her returning smile told me more than anything that I would be more than okay, I would be ready for anything.
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