The wind was nipping my nose on the frosty afternoon that the lady came around to my pasture. At first I avoided her because I didn't see the purpose of what she was doing. I turned left, then right, looking away to avoid eye contact. I thought maybe she would give up and leave me alone.
I knew her plan was to take me to the mesa with the boy, but the boy wasn't there yet--he was busy with other things and just returning in the white van from some group outing. Maybe he didn't really want to be with me anyway. I wasn't sure.
The lady wouldn't give up; she approached me, talked to me and waited for me to acknowledge her. It seemed easier to meet her half way than to keep on avoiding it. She seemed harmless and hopeful.
She proved to have good intentions as I followed her and waited at the standing rail. I was thankful she didn't make the rope knotted, knowing that takes away my options. If I needed to flee I would be stuck. This lady looped the rope so I had something to hold onto without being captive. She knew I could pull away and leave, but if I did, she would go with me until I was ready to go back. She left the impression that she trusted me to stay. I was thankful the choice was mine; the rope was secure but not confining.
The boy showed up and the lady asked him to brush Skipper and me while she broke the ice in the water tanks. The boy smiled while brushing us. Noticing this, I became less annoyed at being removed from my home and comfort zone. I realized I'd been standing there, cold- focus inward, not noticing the company of the others around me. It wasn't so bad being there with that boy, being cared for. I saw that he was ok while grooming me, so I relaxed.
The boy conversed with the lady as she saddled us and they climbed up on our backs. The boy took hold of my reins and with that connection I couldn't help but size him up. I decided who I thought he was. Maybe I didn't know him well, but I had to ask myself right then--who he was going to be to me.
Holding my reins, he had my most vulnerable part in the palm of his hands--the leather that connected to that metal bit in my mouth.
I thought about my past--I wasn't always dependable, knowing how to buck or spook off, leaving a rider in a heap of dust. I know the power of my weight and muscle and felt lucky the lady took the time to teach me I can be confident in myself--safe and kind toward others while staying true to myself. I've learned to be patient, gentle and playful--not too judgmental of those who hold my reins a bit harshly. I know they're just learning, doing the best they know how while trying to communicate with me.
Somehow I've learned to relax, helping them through those clumsy times without blame or defensiveness. There was a time when I'd thought about bucking a rider off for not knowing what I needed from them. It never left me feeling good about myself, seeming like everybody lost while blaming everybody else.
For a year, I've been carrying the weight of boys of many shapes, sizes and temperaments. It goes against my instinct of self-preservation, but the more I do this, the more I see how good it is to be strong for others, helping them be faster, stronger and braver than they were before meeting me. I am proving that I can be trusted and reliable, even though once I wasn't.
The boy took my reins, holding the bit comfortably in my mouth. He rubbed my shoulder, smiling as we began our trip up the hill. The lady and Skipper went ahead, moving quickly, making it look easy, although I noticed an unsteady rhythm in his gait.
The boy and I moved more slowly, stopping sometimes while the boy looked far away, studying the desert and horizon. I sensed his thoughts as he considered the vast stillness while the wind whipped against our faces. Many times along that climb he seemed to go someplace else in his mind, but his hands remained steady, connecting us so I went with him to those places deep within himself and far away to other places -- out there somewhere. I wondered if he knew I was there with him.
Sometimes the climb tired me. The rocks were hard under my feet and the frost on the grass made the footing uncertain. When I'd begin to slip, he'd catch me with the reins, steadying my steps, keeping me from falling.
As we neared the big rocks I grew tired. The way was steep and reaching the top seemed far away, maybe impossible. I stopped more often, resting longer. The boy expressed concern that I wouldn't make it further. He didn't know if I could.
I knew that the lady knows my strength and ability. I knew she was gauging the circumstance, environment, time and future events, considering how far to push, how fast to progress--and whether it was about this particular hill we were climbing--reaching that one specific goal, or if the day's conditions required a change of direction. She might have known that sometimes unexpected destinations prove better than our own plans.
The lady spoke to the boy about this briefly, and, just as she had wrapped my rope at the standing rail earlier, gave this boy options, asking if he wanted to continue our climb to the top of the mesa. This meant slowly picking our path through the rocks under the shadow of the tall hill as the sun quickly sank behind its back. Or, did he want to go where the sun still shone brightly over a smoother, more gradual trail, away from the sharp rocks and scrub brush.
The boy chose where the sun shone on a path with fewer obstacles to bruise my heels. I wondered if he knew how much I thanked him for choosing that way and considering me. Did he knew how much easier it was on both of us? Did he realize how cold and long and difficult the other path might have been had he chosen only to reach the highest place that day?
We still had to work as we walked on the path the boy had chosen. The wind still beat against us, making our skin feel cold, but the sun was there, softening the frozen ground and warming the air. We could have run, playing with ease, had we decided to. It wouldn't have caused us any harm.
We saw herds of deer with the ranch dog trailing them. We stopped after some miles at the top of the furthest peak from our original goal. .
Looking over the valley and water, the boy enjoyed some trail mix the lady had brought, talking about the hopes and dreams he has for his future. He thanked the lady for the time he'd had with me. I knew then I was a very lucky horse. As my stride quickened as we headed home, the boy noticed I was actually much stronger than he'd first thought.
I knew the way home, remembering the path he'd chosen for us. Remembering our journey, I reflected on how difficult the path had been sometimes, and how it made me question myself and the boy, wondering whether he really cared about me or if I was just a way to pass the time. I knew he had doubted my abilities for a while--but then he chose the way he thought would be best for me.
I remembered my first thought back at the pasture that I'd rather not even go, that it was a waste of my time and energy and I'd be missing out not being where I'd always been. Being there with that boy, I realized that I was so glad we had experienced the journey together.
Spending time with the boy--knowing he really cared about the path I took and how it affected me--made me thankful. I knew I was in good hands. The time it took and the choices we made together reminded me I was stronger than others knew and more capable than I gave myself credit for. I was also more willing than my nature would have chosen on its own without the determination of others who were choosing to wait it out with me and go alongside to places more peaceful and rewarding than I'd imagined they could ever be.
About Cherry Gulch:
Cherry Gulch is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed specifically for 10 -14 year old boys. Their supportive, encouraging and respect-based approach is designed to build students up-rather than tear them down. Cherry Gulch is passionate about providing early intervention and prevention to help boys reach their full potential and become well-rounded, pro-social young men. They are dedicated to providing outstanding therapeutic and academic services to students and their families in the context of a safe environment working toward "Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today." For more information, contact: Andy Sapp, PhD, Founder and CEO, 208-365-3437 ext. 502, DrSapp@CherryGulch.org, www.CherryGulch.org