There is something about a girl and a horse.
Yeah, boys have their toys with wheels, their guns, their tools, their dogs and they look noble and masculine (and a bit like a western movie if they’ve got the outfit right) on the back of the beautiful beasts….
But it’s not the same.
I was reminded of this phenomenon this week when my twelve-year-old cousin from The Cities (yeah, we’re in Western ND, so even though Minneapolis/St. Paul is an excruciating 600 plus miles to the east, those are our cities ok…) came to visit the ranch for the first time (without her two brothers). My cousin is a fiery, sweet, smart redhead who has spent much of her childhood on the pavement giving all of that animal loving heart to her declawed cat who moves, like city cats do, throughout their beautiful home from sunny spot to sunny spot until he is let loose in the night to lurk through the neighborhood, exercising his wild side.
I love this girl and have spent time with her when she was younger, but never, I realized, one on one. So I admit I was a little nervous to have her out to this wild place, so far removed from the Super Target that is located down the street from her house, so far from the structured entertainment and the embracing neighborhood full of friends and swimming pools and a bike rides and movie theatres at your fingertips. I was worried she would be bored. I was worried she was going to miss her friends. I was worried that the things I liked to do when I was twelve (and let’s just admit it here, still do) would not appeal to her. And to top off the unexpected anxiety, it occurred to me that this pre-teen might never survive without cell service!
So the plans I made to walk through the creek beds and pick wild berries and go fishing in the big lake and ride bike were on a list right next to the back-up plans of movies and swimming pools and manicures…you know, just in case.
But sweet Red was not nervous at all. Red packed her bags diligently in her room in the suburb of Minneapolis at the end of her summer with sweet adventure in her sight. She was on a quiet mission as she endured bravely the ten hour trip out west in a car with nothing on her mind but exploring every inch of this place on the back of a horse.
As soon as the car pulled through the breaks of the badlands and down into the valley of my parent’s home, Red stepped out and sucked in the fresh air and immediately buried her face in the necks of the two dogs rushing, tails wagging, coming to greet her. I’ve never seen a smile that genuine. I’ve never seen a heart open that wide.
And in that moment it was quite clear that this girl, with the freckles and the blue eyes and the beautiful, straight, long red hair–a girl so far away from me in miles and looks and lifestyle and years, did indeed share the same blood.
I should not have been surprised. I should not have doubted this wonderful, curious, adventurous child. With the perfectly placed ponytails and the cowboy hat and boots I lent her she even reminded me of Annie Oakley!
So I took this as my cue and I shredded my backup list and made plans to check off everything on the first one—the real one.
We had two days.
So we scoured the hills for chokecherries and plums, got her shoes muddy in the black mud of the crick (“do you say creek or crick?” “Well, I guess we say crick around here…”), threw the stick for the dogs to fetch and caught a frog. And because she is a Minnesota girl, I thought she should see a lake completely different than those in her backyard. So down the road we went to big, rugged, untamed Lake Sakakawea to fish for walleye against the clay cliffs that border the shore. And damn if Red didn’t catch the only fish. Big Fish.
Oh, her brothers would be jealous.
She swam with the lab in the cool North Dakota lake, she shot a Pabst can right off of the fence post with the .22, she rode the 4-wheeler, she tamed the wild cat, she sat out in the yard with the four dogs as the sun went down on what I hoped was a day of her dreams…
And she rode horse.
And If ever there was a moment that needed to occur in the life of a twelve year old girl—a moment that makes all of the annoying troubles of the world disappear (like puberty and high-water pants and friends who betray you and parents who just don’t understand), a moment where complete innocence and trust and hope appears again in the eyes of a girl on the verge of womanhood, it was this one.
We walked into the corrals and I pointed out her horse. Her eyes sparked. I slowly and carefully showed her how to bridle the creature. She listened intently. I gave her the currycomb and she brushed his coat and mane. She asked where horses like to be scratched and her hand reached up under the chin of her animal and he answered her question as her new four-legged friend showed his appreciation by stretching out his neck and nuzzling her shoulder.
And if I thought Red’s heart was open as wide as a heart could be with her face nestled into the necks of the labs and the pug and the shepherd, I know now that I was strongly mistaken about how big hearts really are.
But I should have known. I was that girl.
I am her.
Because there is nothing like a girl on a horse. And until now, I guess I must have thought I was the only one who lost myself completely on the back of an animal who takes your life and carries it across the rugged prairies, through fields of clover and snakes and wild, wild things. I guess I thought I was the only one who threw my heart wholly to a beast who could launch you high in the air with one kick and send you tumbling to the ground, but mostly chooses not to (mostly…but sometimes you need to learn a lesson or two) and instead listens as you ask him to climb a hill
or go fast around a barrel or get up close to a raspberry bush so you can have a sample and then help you bring the cows home.
See, there is a certain amount of trust, a special trust, a different kind of connection between a girl and a horse. And bear with me because I think there is an amount of truth here…
A boy, a man, and his horse have a different agreement. There is a certain amount of power a man, whether physical or mental, is not willing to relinquish to a beast. There is an understanding between the four legged animal and the two legged creature on his back that they will indeed accomplish a task, together, successfully, the way it was meant to the man. And the man thanks the horse for his assistance.
And this is a wonderful thing.
But a girl loves her horse with the kind of tenderness only a woman can give. She longs to understand the animal and knows there are days when all you can do is walk slowly together down the road, no matter how pressing the issue. A girl wants to ride just to maintain a connection with her animal, to let him know that he is hers, she is his and she is here. But when the time comes to run, there is nothing more untamed, there is nothing wilder, there is nothing closer to the wind than a girl, hair tangling behind her, face close to the neck of a her beast as they reach for the horizon.
And up until now it didn’t occur to me that maybe that sort of wild is in every woman, somewhere.
So thanks Red. Thanks for coming over and showing me that even city girls can open their hearts and let go of their fear and their life and the world as they know it and….
ride like the wind.