When I wrote about my daughter’s adventures in horse riding last spring, I listed five valuable lessons that she’s learning in the riding arena. Having observed her riding lessons for over a year now, I can see her growing confidence and sense of responsibility. I love our days at the stables; it’s our time. Daddy is not really into stables and manure. He is also somewhat of a nervous wreck when she’s on the horse, so he stays behind. It’s fine with me because I love horses. Also, it allows me to call “not it” when it comes time for other special times with our daughter including math homework, playing baseball, and home-based science experiments.
Nowadays, she lugs the saddle out of the tack room with her chin up, defiantly showing how she can carry it herself. She knows where to find the carrots to reward her horse after a lesson. And, recently, she learned another one of those valuable lessons I mentioned in my earlier post: When you fall off a horse, you have to get back up. Yep, it happened. One second she was trotting while I watched from my vantage point behind the fence. The next second, something outside the arena spooked the horse and he took off in a gallop, leaving my girl in a heap in the sand on the ground behind him.
I knew that falling off the horse was a “when” thing, not an “if” thing. I had also held onto a teeny little hope that my child would be the one person on the earth to be shielded from pain, hurt, heartbreak or (insert any other difficulty that comes to mind here). I ran to the middle of the arena. As soon as she looked up and saw me, crying, “Mama!” my instinct was to run to her, scoop her up into my arms, and carry her away. That instinct is a powerful thing; I think I would have reconnected the umbilical cord in that moment if it were possible.
But I didn’t run to her, scoop her up, or let her bury her head on my shoulder. Instead of rescuing her, I let her instructor take the lead once I knew she wasn’t injured. To make sure I didn’t falter, I kept myself busy by walking over to the horse, grabbing the reins, and leading him back to my daughter. Handing her the reins with a big old plastered-on smile, I mustered my inner cheerleader and told her she was ok, that she could do it.
I surprised myself even as I heard the words come out of my mouth. Moments later, before fear could dig its heels in, her instructor hoisted her back on the horse and led her around the arena as I stood close by. When the lesson was over and we were leading the horse back to the stable, several of the ‘big girls’ stopped to congratulate her and shared stories of the first time they fell. I could have kissed every one of them for normalizing the scary experience for her. In the course of an hour, my daughter learned a valuable lesson: When you try new things where you are sure to fall from time to time, be sure you have a good teacher and surround yourself with good women to support you and cheer you on.
After we groomed her horse and gave him a carrot, only then did I scoop her up and hold her tight. There have been many moments in my five-year mommy career where I was sure I had screwed up a teachable moment, but this time I think I got it right. My girl got back on the horse! Without me! Trusting her teacher! And that’s the thing about the ‘getting back on’ part of falling down, learning to be brave, and overcoming fears: sometimes we have to give our children the reins, plaster on a big fake smile, and stand back. And yes, I gave myself a carrot too.