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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

August 30, 2009

Horsing around

When I was a kid, I went through a bit of a horse-crazy phase. It lasted several years, and included reading all of the Marguerite Henry books, all of the Black Stallion books and any other information I could lay my hands on.

It also included a couple of years of weekly group horseback riding lessons, progressing from a walk to a trot to a canter around an indoor or outdoor arena.

This is not a love that Caroline shares. While she reads almost constantly, she hasn’t picked up the horse-centric books that were mainstays of my childhood library. While she has asked once or twice for riding lessons, it’s never been a priority for her.

So when her Girl Scout troop visited White Pines Ranch (billing itself as “a dude ranch just for kids”) she found herself getting up close and personal with horses for the first time.

She wasn’t the only first-time rider in our group; most of the girls had admired horses from a distance, but never gotten too close. It seems to be a side effect of living in the city, where it is always a long trip to a stable.

She also wasn’t alone in being a little surprised at just how big a horse is, and how high up she sat when one of the ranch staff members boosted her onto the horse’s back.

As she got ready to mount, Caroline told me she was scared, but she was trying to follow the advice from their horsemanship class: even if you’re nervous, try to project confidence. And she had the good sense to tell one of the staff people that she had never ridden before and wanted a calm horse.

But once she spent a half-hour in the saddle, she was in love, or at least deeply in like, with Bailey, the bay mare she rode. She was also proud of herself for overcoming her fears.

The next day, when it came time to ride again, she wanted get back on Bailey, but it wasn’t to be; Bailey was getting a day off and hadn’t been saddled.

But a worker suggested a similarly gentle horse, and Caroline got acquainted with Ed.

Ed didn’t supplant Bailey in Caroline’s affections. For one thing, he had an annoying habit of trying to stop and eat every couple of steps, which required Caroline to take control and get him moving again. But once again, she not only got through the ordeal, she enjoyed it.

Over and over in the Bible, God tells his people not to be afraid, and when they listen and overcome their fears, good things come to them. Fear is a good thing, sometimes, letting us know to be careful and to choose our paths wisely. But it’s also important to keep fear in its place and not let it dictate what we will or will not do.

I envied Caroline the chance to ride at the ranch, but I was more proud and happy for her when I saw how happy she was.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].