by Laura Parker Roerden
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” —the Rolling Stones
When I was growing up, our farm (then a dairy) was one of three farms on our hill. The other two were horse farms. The confines of these farms held a large gang of kids, who roamed the combined 200 acres of pastures and woods as if it were the wild, wild west and we were its deputies. All of us rode horses.
The lucky ones took riding lessons at Palmers horse farm, which had a proper English dressage arena, given in exchange for mucking stalls. The rest of us saddled up on our own horses and rode rag tag, grabbing onto saddle horns when the going got tough or muttering prayers to saints on necklaces once they or our hearts started bouncing too hard against our chests.
Our horse was technically my sister Linda’s, who had used her hard earned cash to purchase a handsome chestnut-colored quarter horse named Bellboy. Along with my sister’s coming into teenager-hood, Bellboy brought a whole lot of excitement to our lives. There was a handsome farrier who came with ancient looking tools to shoe him; there was leather tack that required coats of beeswax to remain supple and waterproof; special brushes for his mane and tail; and the occasional vet visits. And then there was the luxury of riding whenever my sister would let me.
It turns out that telling someone to get right back on the horse is one of the worst pieces of advice you can give.
Linda was sixteen when she fell in love with my now brother-in-law Tom. Horses require steady streams of exercise, but that spring—the spring of Tom—Bellboy was not turned out as frequently as he would have liked. So I gladly picked up the slack. I was all of eleven.
One muddy spring day, when I could see that Bellboy was particularly agitated from a lack of exercise, I saddled him up to take him for a spin around our hay fields.
This is how I imagined I looked to people passing down our street:
But this is how I really looked:
Bellboy had reared up and took off like a flash throwing me off his back as if I were a clown at a rodeo. Only instead of a clean fall, my boot got stuck in the stirrup and I was being dragged.
Hooves were coming down all around me.
It took more than a few rounds before I realized just how in peril I was and started dodging the hooves and protecting my head with my arms. All I could think was what an embarrassing way to die.
My mother came running out of the farmhouse with a towel in her arms, screaming STOP. But it was my sister’s call to the horse that finally worked.
While the memory of those hooves coming down around my head will live in my minds eye forever, I have no memory of those moments after the horse stopped. I assume someone helped get my foot out of the stirrup. I’m sure I eventually got up off the ground and walked back to the farmhouse. I do remember that my leather boot was cut clean through and that I had a bad rug burn on my ankle. But I was relatively unhurt.
I had fallen off the horse. But getting back on was not as simple as an act of will. It would be a good fifteen years later before I got back on a horse and many years after that before I’d realize that getting right back on a horse you’ve fallen from was about the worst advice you could give someone.
The year I did get back on the horse I had travelled to Kentucky for work. The kind trail ride owner whom I told my story to before she handed me the reigns of her gentlest horse laughed with good humor and understanding, but pointed out an important fact: “Well, you might have needed some riding lessons.”
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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.