In third grade we moved to a small town in Nebraska, where the corn grew tall and the smell of cows filled the air. It was a typical country town that had a popular 4-H program. As soon as the representatives came to our classroom to tell about the many aspects of 4-H, I knew I just had to get involved.
My best friend and I had been reading The Saddle Club and Thoroughred series books nonstop, playing “horse-race” outside at recess, and competing to see who could come up with the most original horse names. Our eyes locked excitedly as the 4-H representatives got to the horse section; we just had to do it! I remember racing home on my bike (that I pretended was a horse) to beg my mom to let me participate. I don’t remember whether it took much convincing or not; I just remember that she said yes.
As soon as I got my little green paperback 4-H book, I was studying it, practicing the knots, memorizing equine anatomy, learning different breeds. Before long my parents had hooked me up with the leader of the 4-H horse section, and she was going to let me use her quarter horse for the program. I was ecstatic.
We drove out to the acreage, with me excitedly peering out the window. Pipe rails, cows, dirt pens, a sorrel horse. Shirley! I could hardly contain myself as we walked up and I was introduced to her. She was the typical quarter horse red, with a small white star. She was friendly, albeit a little bored. We saddled her up, took a few turns around the arena, and the 4-H leader determined that Shirley and I were a match! We got along great, and she was the perfect level to teach me a few things without endangering me.
I begged my mom every weekend that year to take me out to see Shirley. I really learned all the effort it takes to care for a horse, and I loved every minute of it. We competed in shows, we practiced in the arena, but what I remember most are our romps in the field. Shirley taught me the joy of riding bareback through long grass on a warm day. She taught me the thrill of a shared adventure, the trust between horse and rider. On one such romp Shirley headed out eagerly to “our” field and broke into a canter on my cue. Suddenly she stopped short and wheeled around to the other direction. I nearly slipped off and was so surprised- this was so unlike the very obedient and fun-loving Shirley I knew! Why would she suddenly NOT want to go for a romp in the field? For the first time ever, I basically took the advice of an equine and let her turn us around. I could only guess that Shirley saw something I didn’t- a snake hidden in those tall warm grasses, perhaps. Brushing her down after our shortened adventure, I understood. I understood the necessary mutual trust that bonds horse and rider.