“It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. He had thought that was it. Wasn’t king the best you could be? Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn’t even Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make hims see beyond to the shining world – huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile?” – Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Every Tuesday afternoon from the back of twenty-year-old horse named Hudson, I catch a glimpse of the huge, terrible, beautiful and very fragile shining world. This glimpse has changed everything.
I have been terrified of horses since the age of ten when I fell off a neighbor’s horse and dislocated my shoulder. So naturally my nine-year-old daughter adores horses and wants to spend all of her time riding them. For just over a year she has been taking riding lessons at a local barn and loving it. I have loved it less. The first time she fell off a horse I grabbed the parent in front of me, buried my face in their coat and screamed (and I do mean screamed), “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I can’t look! What’s happening? I can’t even look!”
It’s a wonder they even let me back in the barn as I managed to frighten all the kids and horses there that night. My daughter was shaken by the fall but fine. I was shaken and clearly not fine. Every time a horse spooked, tripped or sneezed I flinched, jumped or screamed – sometimes all three at once. Sadly, I was the only parent available to drive my daughter to riding so she was stuck with my shenanigans. As the months passed I forced myself into closer proximity with the horses by petting, grooming and feeding them apples. Ever so slowly I got more comfortable around them. Then I became fond of Hudson. I fell for his big brown eyes and super soft, whiskery nose. And then I decided I should ride Hudson because I’m a jerk like that. I just wanted to stop being so scared. Scared of horses. Scared of heights. Scared of failure. Scared of not being enough. Scared of being too much. I wanted to tackle ALL the fears and Hudson was there right in front of me every week so why not start with him?
I have been riding for two months – a grand total of eight lessons. Some days I try to talk myself out of going to the barn. Other days I groom Hudson way longer than necessary in an attempt to delay actually getting on him. But I have shown up for every lesson to clumsily climb on Hudson’s back and awkwardly ride around the arena for thirty minutes. Each time I do this, I push back the walls of my mind and move into the beyond. The beyond where things are big and wild and scary and magnificent. Where anything is possible because I am doing the impossible. I am riding a horse. But I could just as easily be jumping out of an airplane 12,000 feet above the earth or resting comfortably in the knowledge that I am the exact parent my girls need me to be or publishing all the things because I don’t actually give a damn who thinks what about my writing!
From Hudson’s back I can see the beyond. And there is more yes, more joy and more freedom there. I’m going to push myself to bask in its magnificence more often.
“As for the terrors ahead – for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him – well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white. Right, Leslie?”