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Horses Don’t Come with Training Wheels – By Tessa Anderson

Tessa I am currently raising two beautiful girls, born 14 years apart.  My first daughter, now nearly 20 and a freshman in college is a beautiful young woman, who is navigating the road to self-dependence.  My second born child is in the first grade, and learning how to be a child.  Two different genres: with two very different souls involved that are bound by the ties of family and a love for horses.

As a child my oldest daughter struggled with immense health issues, her battle scars still ever apparent in her daily life.  She had chronic health problems often dictating long hospitalizations, forcing her to endure interruptions in her daily life.  Along the way she met, fell in love and lost many good friends.  Isolation led to social issues, and educational issues.  When you’re fighting for the life of a child, there is no book about the aftermath.  No guide to tell you what to do after you get home and settle into a daily routine.  As a mother to this little girl, I often resorted to horses to help her cope with loss.  For this child, riding became her legs and her ticket to freedom.  Never did she show fear, or regret.  Once on the back of a horse, she became the person she was trying to be; social, empowered and free.  I often think of her riding in the early years as therapy, when all else failed, horses could make her want to get up, want to live another day, want to get better. The start of her love for horses was seem less, easy and the challenges very limited.   Even with an IV pump running she just rode, often all day on her little bay mare that seemed to know that she was carrying very special cargo. For this rider, growth came easily, and without much ado.  It was as if she was meant to be on the back of, or under or leading a horse.

 

Fourteen years later, I was gifted the chance to raise a “normal” child.  Let me first say it was a blessing, and a challenge from day one.  I was the mother to a special needs child, who had no real understanding of what “normal parenting” meant. There was never a question that this daughter too would become a rider in my mind, as with the other child it seemed a given that a shared love would just grow for horses in this child, and it has.  However the contrast in raising this rider is clear.  This child has fear, and has to work at riding.  She loves her horses, and loves the time at the barn, however for very different reasons.  This little one has had normal life experiences; she has not suffered the loss that her sister has, and tends to be drawn to people and social interactions.  She is currently working on riding alone, without assistance.  I have had to research how to get her more comfortable and invent games to help her forget her fear.  For the first time in my life, taking my child to the barn is not seamless, and it is work.

I once was told to never compare my children that in doing so are comparing apples to oranges.  I also have been told that riders develop at such different rates that there is not a standardized set of expectations at any given age for a skill level.  In this, I have come to the conclusion that if my children were bike riders, we could mark success at taking off the training wheels.  Well, horses don’t come with training wheels, so what milestone is success?  Is it the first few steps in riding alone without assistance? Is success the first trot?  Is success the first canter on the correct lead headed to a jump?  There is not a clear answer in my mind, and like teaching a child to ride a bike there are going to be hurdles. She will fall. She will get hurt.  She will cry. She will be angry. She will hate it. She will be sad.  She will want to quit.

I will encourage. I will cajole.  I will console.  I will doctor the scabs and bruises.  I will help her balance.  I will wipe away her tears.  I will help her back on the horse as many times as it takes.

I will let go. I will let go and she will ride without me.  She will shout, “Look Mom, I can trot.”

I will let go, and she will laugh and smile and ride with pride.

I will let go, and she will ride her horse like a champ.

I will let go, and she will ride away from me.

 

In retrospect as I write this piece (more for myself than anyone else) I am learning that the training wheels would be more for me than for my young riders.  If horses came with training wheels they would be something to make ME feel safer, not my girls.  In truth I am learning to let go.

 

For one daughter I will let go, and learn to accept what she will grow into and what she will be good at and with what she will struggle. For the other daughter—it is the very same, just fourteen years later.

 

I will continue to make mental notes of what worked and what didn’t with the first child and try to learn from my time as her mother.  I will not compare them academically, socially or as riders.  I will just support them both as best I can with love, and a firm hand and a strong desire for a set of training wheels.

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