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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Raised in a Barn

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(11/2012) I watched the 12-year-old girl enter the barn with her white cane, tapping side-to-side. She navigated a little shakily, clinging to her motherís arm for guidance. A volunteer helped the girl up a short flight of stairs to a platform where she could mount her lesson horse. Handing over her cane, she adjusted her glasses and reached out in front her towards the small, fat gray pony. Gathering the reins in one hand and placing her other at the back of the saddle, she swung her legs over and onto the horse. A large grin broke across her stoic face.

The barn where I volunteered my time helping handicapped individuals take horseback riding lessons has left a strong impression on me for many reasons. I was amazed by the power of horses, yet their kindness and ability to lend strength to those who need it. I was struck by the volunteers who dedicated so much of their time to make sure these lessons could happen for those who needed them. Perhaps most of all, I was inspired by the students themselves.

Each student had his or her own story and disability, but their troubles never dissuaded them. They found a new freedom in horseback riding lessons. Liberty, the blind girl from the story above, was a charming young lady. Despite becoming blind at such a young age, Liberty was very positive about life and adjusted well with the help of her riding lessons. That fat gray pony, Smokey, became her eyes during lessons and gave her the sureness of foot that she didnít have when walking herself.

Working with this therapeutic riding program made me appreciate my own abilities so much more. The day to day routine that is so simple for me is a monumental task for someone else. It also made me realize how grateful I am to have become involved in horseback riding in the first place and recognize how much horses have helped me grow as a person.

When I had first asked my parents for riding lessons, I changed my mind three times before my mom finally said, "You know what? Youíre going." I was so nervous yet excited. I had always been an animal lover, but I also had an extreme fear of failure. I wanted to be perfect and to do things correct the first time, so sometimes learning or experiencing new things gave me quite the emotional roller coaster ride.

Before my first lesson, my mom took me to meet my riding instructor, Ginger. A family friend was keeping a horse at Gingerís stables at the time, so we met her there to be introduced. I remember pulling into the driveway and seeing all the farm equipment scattered across the lawn. Getting out of the car, I saw two large Doberman barking at me from behind a fence. Not a very soothing sight for a nervous 11-year-old. My mom and I walked past the house to an arena where our family friend had her horse. A weathered woman in her thirties was there. She was dressed very casually in jeans and a well-worn t-shirt, with muddy boots protecting her feet. Her voice naturally resonated when she gave instructions, as if she had a built in microphone. Despite her rough exterior, she made me feel very comfortable. Her witty humor kept us in stitches, and her relaxed, confident manner made me confident that I was in good hands. This was Ginger.

During that visit, Gingerís daughter brought out a red, sway back pony with a white blaze and kind brown eyes. I watched as she brushed the horse, put a saddle on him and entered the arena. I didnít know it at the time, but I had just seen the first horse I would ever own.

His name was Bravo and about a year into taking lessons, my parents bought him for me. I adored that pony, and spent every waking moment at the barn, grooming and riding, cleaning his stall and feeding him peppermints. He was my life outside of school. I had innumerable adventures on him, sometimes doing things I probably shouldnít have. We galloped through the pastures chasing geese from the stream. We rode along the side of the road and across the street through the neighborsí corn fields. Bravo gave me the same freedom that Smokey gives Libertyóthe freedom of not being afraid to fall.

Last August, the day I moved back to campus, we had to put Bravo down. He was an old man, around 30-years-old, completely blind and probably had cancer. That morning I went down to feed him before leaving for school, and he was lying down in his stall unable to stand up. I knew immediately it was time to let him go. I stayed with him the whole time, talking to him and smoothing his fur, his head in my lap. It was bittersweet letting him go and as I sat there I couldnít help but remember all the adventures we had had together. He had taught me so much; he had given me the courage to try new things and conquer my fears. He lent me the strength I didnít have on my own. But his job here was done. I had learned all I could from him, and now it was my turn to give him his own freedom. I sent him off with a whispered, "Thank you."

There is a belief in the horse world that riders have only one great horse in their career. I am grateful to have already had mine.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones