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The Girl, the Horse and the Lie

October 13, 2011

"Girl meets Horse" is as old a story as "Boy meets Girl."

My mother started lying about my age when I was seven.

It was the day of my cousin’s birthday, and she just turned eight. Eight, it turned out, was the magical number that a child needed to obtain to go horseback riding down a rocky trail on a fiercely domesticated horse tethered in a line with a riding company in Virginia. My cousin had decided that she would celebrate her birthday with this trail ride through the woods, then have cake and ice cream back in the barn. I was invited to partake in the festivities, and was thrilled to have a chance to practice my equine skills.

We arrived a little late, and my mother signed me in as I inspected various tack on the walls of the stable. I pet the velvety noses of some of the smaller horses and mentally chose the horse I would ride, if allowed to express my preference. I was just getting into my small, brown riding boots when a man sidled up next to me.

“Hi, little girl.”

Not an auspicious beginning to a conversation. I didn’t like it when people called me ‘little.’ I looked at him sideways through my black bangs. He was dusty with straw debris from working in the stable and wearing an old pair of jeans. His mouth was curved in a small smile. He was wearing a Daffy Duck T-shirt. Maybe he was nice. I allowed him a “Hi.”

“Are you excited to go horseback riding today?”

“Very excited! I love horses. I want to learn to gallop, will I get to go fast on the trail ride?” One boot on. The second had a knot in the lace. He leaned over and helped me get the knot out of the string.

“Thanks mister.” I proceeded to lace up the boot.

He smiled. “Do you know how to ride?”

I scoffed happily. “Of course I do! I have been in riding lessons since I was five years old!”

“Oh! Well then!” He paused for a second and then helped me off the hay bale. Then, quickly: “And how old are you now?”

I drew myself up to my full height, all four feet of me, standing strong. I smiled. “Seven. And a bit.”

“Ahh. Well then…”

And then he strode away, his smile gone. I forgot him quickly and went over to the gaggle of girls who were being boosted into saddles. My cousin was happily resplendent, on a gorgeous roan horse at the front of the line. I waited in line patiently. A placid blonde mare waited for me, just as patiently. My feet had just touched the stirrups and the saddle was being adjusted when the man I talked to earlier came up to me, looking annoyed. My mother was behind him, her face shifting between anger and shame. I smiled widely.

“Mom! Look at this horse! Isn’t she just the sweetest!”

“Get. Her. Down” The man said through clenched teeth to the woman adjusting the saddle. She looked confused, but grabbed my hips. I grabbed the shoe horn with both hands.

“She is a capable rider! She has been in lessons for over two years! The horses walk in a line for god’s sake! She will be fine. She will be eight in a few months!”

“Company rules, ma’am! Your daughter is not yet eight and she is not eligible for the trail ride. You must have known this policy of ours, considering you misrepresented her age on the liability waiver.”

My mother glared at him. He glared right back. The stable, clearly, was not big enough for the two of them.

“Mom?” I said uncertainly. Both of them swiveled towards me.

“It’s okay, honey.” At her tone with that admission, I limply let go of the saddle. The woman, just as mutely, took my off the horse. She gave me a pitying glance before leading the horse (my horse!) to the next girl in line.

My mother held my hand gently. “I hope you’re happy,” She hissed, impotently.

He only said, “The pony rides are available for anyone aged 2 years old to ten years old. They are in the second ring to the right. Good day.” He left that part of the barn.

I started to cry, once away from the remaining girls. “He tricked me, Mom! I didn’t know I was supposed to be eight! I told him I was seven. He pretended to be nice!” I felt completely betrayed.

“It’s not your fault, sweetie. I should have told you that you needed to lie.” The moral and ethical considerations of applying such a principle didn’t occur to me, and I nodded, sobbing. My mother hugged me as we watched the other girls, the older girls, leave for the trail ride, giggling and happy. We stood there until the last horse tail swished out of sight.

This was the horrible sight: pony rides.

I was still crying when my mother took me outside to talk to my aunt. I looked around, and saw that there was a small, placid looking pony being led around by its neck by an equally bored looking teenager. Around and around, in a small circle, in a pen. My littler cousin was on the pony, looking sleepy. My cries redoubled and I sank to my knees.

My aunt stopped talking to my mother and looked at me. “Does she want to go on the pony ride at least?”

“NOOOOOO!!!!”

“I guess not. Does she want to stay for cake?”

I screamed like I was being gutted.

My mother this time: “I guess not.”

The pony whickered and stopped moving. My little cousin didn’t notice. She was asleep out of boredom.

I cried about the injustice of the world all the way to the car. Once inside, I curled up in a little ball. Before I sobbed myself to sleep I cried out: “Just you wait! Someday, I’ll be eight. Then you’ll be sorry!”

My mom put on a jaunty radio tune. “You tell him, honey.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 13, 2011 8:15 PM

    That was my bday! haha sorry about that 😦

  2. October 14, 2011 3:53 PM

    Please! At the time- traumatizing. Now- an excellent story. 🙂

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