Enjoy the ride
Michael: It was bound to happen to my little girl sooner or later. She is, after all, a freshman in high school, an age when young ladies are attracted to members of the opposite sex.
She has fallen in in love with Carlos, a brown-eyed, chestnut haired, six footer. She makes no apologies for his brash attitude and his rude manners. It is part of the attraction for her undoubtedly. Not only is Carlos a bad boy; he is a big boy, too. At 1200 pounds, the horse has some serious swag going on. If he were a high school boy, there’s no doubt in my mind Carlos would wear his cap cocked a few degrees off center, his underwear would ride way up over his jeans, and he would have a pair of Dre Beats clamped over his ears, jamming out tunes, oblivious to everyone around him. Just the kind of boy Mickey would fall for.
Carlos rarely does exactly what he’s supposed to do. His 70-something- year old owner, Lance, has said Carlos does not listen to anybody. That’s the reason Lance has not entered Carlos in many shows.
Sometimes when my daughter is riding around the outside rink, he will unexpectedly rear up, and try his best to dump her off the back of the saddle, or he will suddenly sink to his knees and attempt to slide her off the front of the saddle. Somehow Mickey stays atop of Carlos, firmly reins him in, then digs her heels into his side, and urges him back into his cantor.
If he resists, she will spur him forward with a sharp wrap of her riding crop on his backside: he will stutter-step sideways for a few paces as if some electric current pulses through him. Then he will straighten up and trot as pretty as any horse you have ever seen. Even Lance has had to admit that no one has ever been able to get Carlos to do the things Michaela can. In June, he encouraged her to ride him in his first show in years. After the two of them worked through their initial jitters in the first class, they earned ribbons in all of the other events.
Back in the barn, where there is an earthy-smelling melange of leather, horse sweat, fresh hay and manure, Michaela begins the ritual of untacking him, first unlacing the bridle, slipping on the halter that she hooks up to the cross ties to keep him centered. She presses her face up against his face, looking at him eyeball to eyeball. “You were a bad boy today. You shouldn’t try to buck.” Then she removes the saddle, putting all of the equipment back where it belongs in the tack room.
This is my favorite part of the whole process because I have never witnessed this miracle at home: Michaela putting away things. In the real world, I can pretty much walk into our house at the end of the day and retrace her steps after school. There are several textbooks open on the bar, next to an an empty Yoplait container, the remnant of her snack after homework; the television is on and leg rest popped out of the easy chair where she watched the Disney channel; and there is a puddle of clothes on the wet bathroom floor next to the shower where she bathed after she, wait for it… practiced serving over the net in the yard as evidenced by the volleyball at the edge of the woods. But there will be no such telltale signs of her presence in the barn after she is gone.
Before she leaves Carlos for the night, she always feeds him a treat. She holds a piece of a candy cane in her flattened palm as he bends his head toward her hand revealing teeth that could easily shred bark off a tree. “It’s okay as long as you keep your palm flat and don’t move your hand at all,” she explains, reading the panic that has frozen my face. He takes only what is being offered, no flesh. Then she looks at me and says “you try”. No thanks. With all deference to the Connecticut Supreme Court who recently found that horses do not have dangerous propensities, I like five fingers on each hand. And given all the shark fishing I’ve done in my life, I am not willing to press my luck any further.
She kisses her Carlos goodnight on his muzzle, a soft swatch of quivering velvet. Do his eyes look just a little bit sad as he tries to poke his head through bars at the top of his stall? I can hear him neighing loudly as we leave the barn. “See you tomorrow, Carlos!” she tells him, blowing him a kiss. My daughter is in love with a boy named Carlos.
Michaela : I fell in love at a young age, with the most handsome boy in my viewfinder. He is a crazy one, from a family of speed demons. The boy’s name is Carlos, my horse. Our bond is somewhere between that of a mother attending to a trying-son, and a sister and brother, who share each other’s secrets with unconditional love.
Some days I come to the barn to ride Carlos, however some days I just come to be with him in his stall and to play with my baby. I will stand there grooming him, combing his tail, brushing his mane, using the curry comb to get the dirt off of his body. Every once in a while I feel a nudge at my thigh, or a nibble on my hair, and I know Carlos is looking for some love. I will walk in front of him, wrap my arms around his neck, put my head on his head and just breath with him. There is nothing better than loving him and knowing he loves me. I could stay with him all day in silence and still be at peace. He is my little boy no matter how big he is.
Some of the other riders who work at the barn have suggested that Carlos is a bad horse. I say he is a spirited one, with a lot of fire in him. He likes to show people who is the boss, sometimes forgetting that the only boss around here is me. He has a mind of his own, so sometimes he tests the limits. He doesn’t want to be held back, he wants to fly. And he never ceases to try.
Each time, I have a couple of seconds to prepare for his take-off when I feel his body tense beneath my legs, and see his ears go back, as he lifts his head. I sit back, deep in my seat, squeeze my thighs, keep my head up, put my heels down, toes up, and get ready. Then he bolts like it’s the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby, or he pitches a little bucking fit. I have to pull back on the reins with all my might, and sternly yell “No Carlos,” which usually makes him stop. Then I whip him in the rear end with my crop so he knows he was bad.
But most of the time when I get onto Carlos, we act as one being. We don’t communicate through words or even actions; just through thoughts. If I am anxious, he is anxious: when I am happy, he is happy. The rush that fills my body when we are cantering around the ring is indescribable. It is like conquering my worst fear, in the best way.
However, when my dad comes to watch me ride, and sees his little girl flying around the ring on a big, dark horse, cantering round and round, he definitely needs to swallow a chill pill. His face gets flushed, his fists clench, and his jaw bands poke out like marbles. It’s almost like his bulldog look, but scared, not mad. It’s quite funny, if you ask me.
I assure him there is nothing to be afraid of. I tell him that I am in my element, and that I can control Carlos. But he sputters on about how this 1200 pound beast could throw me or crush me in an instant. Really dad? You are worried about me riding my horse in a closed ring, when you ride your Barbie-bike on the highway taking your chances with 5,000 pound cars? You scream down hills on wheels so skinny you can tell which side of a penny is up when you roll over it. That’s funny. You should get on a horse and see how it feels to fly together, then tell me to slow down.
In the words of Chris LeDoux, a world champion rodeo rider : “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high, keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky, and live like you ain’t afraid to die. Don’t be afraid, just enjoy the ride.”