is a terrific scene in the film, "City Slickers," when Billy Crystal and Daniel
Stern recline around a campfire after a long day in the saddle. Crystal asks Stern if he
can recall the best day in his life.
It is a
no brainer that giving birth to each of my two boys are memories so delicate and fraught
with emotion, they exist in a category all of their own. But what of other moments?
After a lifetime of poignant memories, I can still say
with absolute assurance that the very best day of my life was my tenth Christmas, when my
parents gave me a horse of my very own. Having waded through a mass of presents, which
included a tack box filed with brushes, I discovered, with a sinking heart, that there was
to be no horse under my Christmas tree.
About twenty minutes into the clean-up phase of our
Christmas morning, my father wandered down the stairs with a wrapped shirt box inside a
"I dont know who this is from," he said,
offering it to me casually, "but it has your name on it."
As I sat down to open the box, I noticed the bag it had
come in had cut-out letters all over it, in the style of the very best ransom notes.
Slowly I read aloud.
"Your new horse is waiting in stall 16 at Saddle
I jumped up, screamed at the top of my lungs, hopped up
and down, and proceeded to run throughout the entire neighborhood, shrieking like a
banshee that I had been given a horse. A horse of my very own!
There were times over the next few years that Im
sure my parents regretted that day. Horses became my entire world. Our summer vacations
were marked by horse shows in such dubious holiday Mecca's as Moses Lake, Washington or
Lewiston, Idaho. Our winters could be tracked, not by the number of times we hit the ski
slope, but by the amount of riding lessons I took. Horse were not just my life, they
became my familys, as well.
Most parents interested in getting their kids into riding
joke that they are doing so to keep their kids off the streets. Horses are great for
thatand so much more.
In my own life, they have taught me how to be responsible
for a living creature, and how much work goes into that. As a kid, my room was usually a
candidate for "condemned" status, but as an adult with a house to keep, I have
tapped into the lessons I learned in keeping my expensive saddles clean and well-oiled. I
learned, in the endless hours of trying to perfect a "halt-salute" movement for
a dressage test, the value of patience. And in forcing myself to jump an ominous ramp with
an eight foot drop on the other side, I learned to take risks, and to push myself through
moments of perfect fear.
My seven year old student, Selina comes every Wednesday
for a lesson on our thoroughbred, Calibre. Astride this 16 hand bay, Selina can, at times,
look like shes just along for the ride. It is hard to believe that a 60 pound child
can control something that outweighs her twenty times over. But Selina usually handles
herself in the saddle with a seriousness and confidence unique in one so young.
A few weeks ago, in front of an audience of aunts, uncles,
and grandparents in town for the Thanksgiving holiday, Selina suddenly melted into a
puddle of tiny tears.
"The horse is scared," she murmured, embarrassed
"Okay, lets talk about whos really
scared," I said quietly, taking her away from all her ardent fans. For a few moments
we talked about fear. We also talked about the importance of focusing not on the problem
itself, but on the solution.
I know she wanted to end her lesson right there, but
Selina listened to all I had to say, went back out and performed flawlessly. Even the
flash of the cameras didnt bother her.
At age seven, Selina is indeed learning to ride, but in
learning to handle the reins, she is gaining vast amounts of knowledge that will serve her
in all other areas of her life. Because of riding, she will be a better friend, a more
responsible child, a better student, and a more compassionate human being.
My parents worked very hard to give me a worry-free
childhood and, succeeded so well that I frankly found early adulthood confounding. But
when I tapped into the lessons I leaned through my many riding coaches, and through the
day-to-day responsibility of caring for my horses, I find the answers are always there.
If you are expecting a horse under your Christmas tree, or
are thinking of putting one in a loved ones stocking, know that, in addition to
providing hours of wonderful time in the saddle, you are giving a host of other values
that will serve that person throughout their lifetime in all they do.