Almost two years ago I enrolled my almost three-year-old in a Pony Camp for a week in the summer. The way she talked about camp and that glowing smile and twinkle in her eyes took my breath away. From there, her already blooming love for horses grew exponentially. She started taking weekly lessons and a few months later she began showing in the Leadline class at local shows. Leadline class is for the young beginner to get dressed in the typical garb and ride the pony around with the trainer leading the horse by a leadrope.
She looked forward to the ribbon and the excitement of being around the older riders. She was learning to trot, post, and two point. She looked completely comfortable and at ease while sitting atop a six hundred-plus pound animal. She was living her dream with the biggest smile plastered across her tiny three-year-old face.
And then she fell.
And a couple months later, she fell a second time. The drive home from the barn that day had me frantic. She was physically fine. There is no way I put that tiny three-year-old back on the horse, right? Right. No way. What if she breaks a bone? Well, that will heal. What if…what if she suffers a more traumatic fall and alters her quality of life for the rest of her life? No way. Not worth it. No chance. We are done.
She still had interest in continuing lessons and so we started bi-monthly lessons. No more trotting. The focus was now on her gaining the confidence she once had. Starting over, essentially. It has been almost a year since that last fall. She is back to trotting. She is back to all smiles. She is constantly asking when she and her pony can do the jumps.
This is how my four-year-old taught me something about her: she is brave.
She has taught me how strong she is. Over the last year, she has shown me that I should never underestimate her. That I should not coddle her for my own sake.
I know that I am much more overprotective than my parents’ generation was. I learned to ride a bike without a helmet. We took car trips with me napping in the floorboard. It isn’t that they were neglectful; it’s that now we are aware of all the dangers and have the equipment to protect our kids.
She could fall out her bed, off the couch, on the sidewalk and hurt herself. She could break her leg on the playground. She could take a baseball to the face during her t-ball game. She could get hurt anywhere at any time. Different activities offer more opportunity for danger, but I cannot and will not hold her back. I want to keep her safe but I also want to keep her happy. I want her to push herself to do things that may be scary.
I will cautiously hold her hand as she walks up to the pony. I will sit outside the fence and cheer her on during t-ball. I will hold my breath, my heart will race. But when she turns and shows me her big ol’ grin, I will smile and clap. And each day, each game, each show, she will teach me how to be brave.
Her riding helmet bears a few scratches just as my 31-year-old body bears scars and battle wounds from the life I have lived. I am going to let her be brave. I am going to let her explore her world with confidence and wonder. I am going to let her fall. I will be by her side when she needs help getting back up.