Annie is eleven and Addie is eight. They are both horse crazy and hungry for knowledge.
As their moms drive away, I wave goodbye and smile reassuringly. “See you in a few hours!”
“Alright,” I say to the girls, now that we are alone. “Why don’t you go into the barn and comb through that collection to find a perfect pair of boots.” They scurry away eagerly.
Ten minutes later, they are stomping towards the corral, grinning from ear to ear.
I explain to them that we are going to catch, groom, saddle, and ride our horses today. Their gazes are wide-eyed and hopeful. In their yearning expression, I see myself at ten being reflecting back; back in the days when I used to worship anybody who was willing to teach me about horses.
I point out Sugar, Monty, and Remy. I show them how to approach each horse. I walk them through the steps of putting a halter on. I grin as they bumble with the straps and stand on the very tips of their toes to reach my horses’ ears. I enjoy my own silent moment of appreciation at how Monty, Remy, and Sugar all act as gentle giants, dropping their heads down and waiting patiently for the halters to be secured.
Then we go through the rituals of grooming. Dust flies in the air and before long all three horses are shining in the afternoon sun. I take them into the barn and point out the tack that belongs to each horse. They need to make several trips to carry all the cumbersome saddles and blankets out to the hitching post, but eventually everything makes it.
“I’m going to show you how to put the saddle and bridle on, and then both of you are going to do it on your own. When I was a kid, my mom told me that if I could halter and saddle my horse without any help, than I could ride whenever I wanted. What she was trying to teach me was that there is so much more to understand about horses than just the riding part. It’s good to learn the steps.”
They nod, rapt with attention. Twenty minutes later, with the help of a trusty mounting block to give them a height boost, both Annie and Addie have successfully saddled and bridled their horses.
I show them how to get on, steer, stop and go. Now that they are on board their horses, they cannot wait to get going. I still take the time anyway discuss the importance of being a calm and confident leader. I’m teaching them about horses, but I’m also trying to teach them about more than horses. They are probably too young to fully understand, but when it comes to messages of empowerment, the implications of a phrase as simple as “straighten your shoulders and look where you want to go” is never lost on me.
Annie and Addie are enthusiastic about learning to turn and stop. They are responsive to my suggestions. They grin upon realizing that when asked correctly, my horses cooperate. Two tiny people ride around and around, their confidence growing with every lap.
I watch my horses forgive the bumpy trot moments by slowing the pace and I am beyond grateful for their kindness. Just yesterday I raced them bareback down a logging road. Today they plod along like old draft horses.
As a finish, I send the girls away to “trail ride” around the outside boundary of our enormous horse pasture.
“Remember to walk,” I reiterate. “It’s always key to end on a positive note.” They head out side by side, disappear briefly into the woods, and then reappear ten minutes later. They are chit-chatting and relaxed. My horses sneak occasional mouthfuls of grass, then continue to amble along.
After the saddles and bridles are put away, both Annie and Addie thank me. Although I am struck by their maturity and appreciate their words, I give Monty a hug and say, “Thank the horses, girls. Always thank the horses.”
Needless to say, Monty, Remy, and Sugar do not suffer for lack of love and treats during that remaining hour.
When the girls are picked up, their moms ask me what I think a fair price for my time. I shake my head. “No worries. It was my pleasure,” I tell them.
And I mean it.
I am paid to teach riding lessons often. However, I think there are moments for being professional and moments when the gesture matters more. This day started as an impromptu “come on over, sure I have horses and time to hang out” arrangement anyway.
Truly though, I am thinking about all the women who gave me countless hours of their time back when I was young. In their presence, it was about more than just learning how to ride. It was about how to take care of something you love, how to be responsible, and how to be grateful. Whether I experienced these moments with my mom, my cousin Sheryl, or a very special cowgirl family I lived with in Wyoming—their generosity was an influence that changed my life forever. I know the best learned lessons of confidence and strength were taught to me during those early years, by both horses and humans.
At twenty three, now it’s my turn to share.
Anna Carroll is a writer and horse adventure enthusiast currently living in Bozeman, Montana.