My childhood was spent outside. I ran through brambles and tall grass, rode my pony with no saddle or bridle–just an “Indian” bridle made of a few twists of baling twine. If I fell off (or more likely, got scraped off on a low-hanging branch), I walked until I caught her, and I got back on.
“Unless something’s broken,” my mother said more than once, “You get back on.”
One bright summer afternoon when I was about 12, I was riding with my friend April Flagg, whose family ran Herefords on the farm behind ours. She had a little Arab cross, and I had my pony–Cocoa–and we were pelting hellbent for leather across the open pasture. My pony decided that she’d had enough, and started an arc towards the barn. I wasn’t done with our running, and I pulled on the left rein to pull her back behind April’s mare. She was stronger than I was, and had a hard mouth from years of being yanked on by yahoos, including me.
She kept her arc to the barn.
Since I didn’t understand force, or physics, and I was getting pissed, I yanked hard on the left rein.
Hard enough to flip us over.
(For those of you who’ve never ridden a horse: We have reins to control the head–if you control the head, the rest of the horse has to follow. This is why, if you are ever on a runaway horse, gently guide the horse into a circle, then make the circle tighter and tighter.
Please note that this tactic will not work if you are in a forest.)
When I regained consciousness, the sky was bright blue. The first thing I did was check to make sure I hadn’t landed in a cowpie. I still had my helmet on. Then I checked to see if I remembered who I was and where I lived: 512 West Highland Road. Yep. Me.
I got up and walked–towards the barn–where I saw my pony tied to the fence. I was in the process of untying her and putting my foot back in the stirrup when my mom barreled up the driveway in our big blue Chevy van. April must have run into the house to have her mom call mine. No idea how long I was unconscious.
“What are you doing?” she yelled out the window as she threw the van into park.
“You told me to get back on if I fell off and nothing was broken. I have to get back on.” And before she could get out of the van to stop me, I swung my right leg up and over, and turned the pony away from the barn.
She did manage to get through the gate in time to stop me from going further than a few feet away. The sun was really bright, and I could tell she was scared.
She took me to the ER and was told I had a concussion, and that I should not be allowed to sleep until it was my normal bedtime. I spent the rest of the day on the dark green Springsteel couch, drinking 7-Up and watching television, none the worse for wear.
There is more to this that will come, maybe later, when I have more time. I have been trying to figure out how to get back to being that fearless kid–the kid who got back on when she fell off.
(I fell off less often than you might expect, but my last horse had a hearty, twisty buck and I liked to ride without a saddle in the middle of winter in northern Ohio. Dumb? Probably.)
While sorting through a box of old photos just now–ran across one of my mom posing in a bright purple bathing suit next to a pool–Myrtle Beach vacation, when I was 9.
I nearly drowned in that pool (saved by a stranger when I got into deep water while my dad was asleep on the deck). The gasping kind of drowning where my head popped above the surface as I launched myself straight up. I could see my dad, fast asleep in the sun.
This did not put me off swimming. I learned how to swim the following summer and we had an above-ground pool that I practically lived in during high school.
What happened to that kid? Where did she go?
With Ziggy (Nitzinger 1978-2010) 1988 Summit County Fair Fourth place overall Versatility thanks to our second place finish in barrel racing. He took care of me.