It is Sunday, and we have a group of children this afternoon who are celebrating a birthday.
The children are excited, curious, and a little in awe of the horses. After all, they sure don't look as big when you see them on TV! They laugh together and chatter away, their faces eager for adventure, their eyes as round as saucers.
Shirley, their riding instructor, has a captive audience as she takes them on a tour through the barn, while our resident pigeons look on. The horses poke their soft, velvet noses between the steel bars of their stalls to greet the children, hoping for a tasty carrot or two. Each child picks his or her favorite horse to ride.
"I want to ride Alabama!" announces one little girl in braids as she jumps up and down.
"Blue Cheese! Blue Cheese!" another shouts.
"And I'm going to ride Florida and go real fast!" a little, red-haired boy with freckles
declares to the others.
"Can I ride Missouri?" a small girl asks, pulling on Shirley's hand.
"Sure," says Shirley as she smiles down at the bespeckled girl with a pony tail.
Some of the other working students and I saddle the horses and help the children to the arena. The children are. all chattering excitedly, ready to mount and ride their chosen horses.
"Are you coming with us?"a small, wisp of a girl asks me. She is about 10 years old and has a little, brown pony tail and glasses.
"Yes, I am," I reply, "would you like that?"
"Oh yes," she answers, skipping along beside me, her pony tail swishing back and forth.
"I've never ridden a real horse before," she whispers.
She shakes her head. "But in make believe I have. Lots of times. And I've won lots of
"You must be very good then!" I replied.
"I pretend I am."
"Well, today will be a lot more fun than pretending, and I'll be close by to cheer you on."
"Okay," she says as she catches hold of my hand.
I smile at my little friend and give her hand a reassuring squeeze. We continue to talk on our way to the arena. I soon discover that her name is Kelly, and she's very excited about her first ride, but a little nervous, too. She loves horses and has always wanted to ride. She has a stick horse named Star that she gallops down the side-walk. The horse's mane is made of red yarn, and they make a lot of noise as they gallop past the neighbors.
"Do your friends like horses, too?" I ask.
"Oh, yes," she answers matter-of- factly.
She runs with a very horse-oriented crowd. They set up jumps in their back yards or in open fields with whatever is handy: buckets, brooms, sticks and branches—they have their own horse shows. I enjoy listening to Kelly's light, pleasant voice and like the feel of her hand in mine. I, too, did the same things when I was little. I was in love with horses at her age and have never outgrown it.
"Do you have your own horse?" she asks.
"No, I don't, but I feel like all the school horses are mine."
"How many are there?"
"At least forty."
"Golly," she sighs "forty horses!" We laugh.
Kelly and I momentarily stop as we approach the arena and then join the other horses lined up waiting for their riders. Parents and on-lookers are standing by with encouraging smiles and ready cameras. Shirley calls out the children's names and assigns them to their requested horses. Kelly is given a little gray Arabian named Vermont.
"Oh," exclaims Kelly as she strokes Vermont's soft nose, "he's so pretty."
Kelly watches closely as I check her cinch and stirrups. Then I help her mount up.
"Now, don't worry," I reassure her when I notice her pale little face. "You'll have a wonderful time, and I'll be right with you, okay?"
"I'm not scared," she bravely replies. "But you'll be right here with me?" she asks, clutching my hand.
"Yes, I promise. And if you want to stop, you just tell me, okay?"
"Okay," she sighs.
We give a little wave to Kelly's mom, who is standing outside the arena, and start our walk around the arena. Kelly, like many of the other children, clutches the horn of the western saddle. I speak encouragingly to her as I walk along side of Vermont, and she soon begins to relax and smile. Vermont seems to like Kelly and behaves wonderfully.
We pause while Shirley explains how to trot the horses, and then off we go. Kelly is grinning from ear-toear, bouncing every which way in her saddle and loving it.
Soon the lesson is over, and Shirley calls for everyone to line up the horses in the center of the arena. I help Kelly dismount. Her face is flushed and perspiring.
"Well, what do you think, Kelly?"
"It's the best time I ever had!" she cries, "and I want to come and do it again! Can I?"
I remove her helmet for her and smooth back her damp hair.
"You'll have to talk to your mom about that," I answer.
"Maybe I can come and visit you and watch you work sometime?" she asks quietly, looking up at me.
"Sure," I say,kneeling down. "I'd love it. You can come by and see me any time you want."
Kelly suddenly throws her arms around my neck and gives me a quick peck on the cheek.
"Bye," she mumbles. Before I can hug her back, she's off and running to her mother.
So I wave goodbye to my new little friend from across the arena. I help the rest of the children dismount, and we lead their horses back to the bam. The children talk about their favorite parts of their ride, looking forward to the birthday cake and punch waiting for them. Up ahead, I can see that the tables under the umbrellas have been set, and the paper cloth is gently blowing in the breeze. It has been a nice group of children,
and I hoped Kelly would come back to visit. Somehow, after today, I didn't think she would be satisfied riding her stick horse.
The other working students and I untack the horses, check their feet for stones, and put them in their stalls. I feel a sense of accomplishment after the lesson and a renewed sense of excitement about riding Having shared something I love with the children, my love for the animals and the sport is much greater. I smile to myself as I make my way into the tack room.
"What are you all dreamy-eyed about?" asks Melody as she struggles with a heavy Western saddle.
"Nice day," I answer as I help her with the saddle.
"Well, snap out of it," she barks, "and let's get cracking."
"What's up? I ask, puzzled.
"We've got 18 girl scouts coming," she pants as she hauls the saddle on to her hip, "and one of them is having a birthday party!"
© 1991-2000 by Kimberly Mack. All Rights Reserved.