Monday, August 22, 2011

the rider

She was eight years old and utterly smitten by her love of horses. Imagining herself perched atop a magnificent creature with mane and tail flying as they cantered over hill and dale, she clutched the two dollar bills she'd saved and approached the paddock where people were mounting up for a trail ride. The bored man who lifted her up onto the large brown horse after taking her money must have thought one of the other adults was her parent. Her toes barely touching the old wooden stirrups,  she found herself at the end of the line of riders as the gate opened.

Up until then her only experience of horse riding had been on the back of a pony who was led around a patch of fairground. Now here she was excited and somewhat terrified from her vantage point so high above the ground. She waved to her surprised parents as she rode proudly past the picnic spot where they'd been chatting with other families while the kids played. It appeared their daughter wasn't on the swings after all.

Clutching the reins tightly, she kept the horse's head high slowing his pace as they climbed the hill to the top of the trail. When they arrived at the summit the great beast decided he felt like grazing and, since a horse's head and neck are far stronger and more determined than the grip of an eight year old girl, graze he did. Meanwhile she held tightly to the pommel and saw the line of trail riders were now far in the distance and just entering some woods. About two seconds later the horse realized the same thing.

He didn't really rear up or buck like you'd see at a rodeo but what he did do was enough to unseat her. A fall can be nasty but not generally serious for a smallish child, especially if she lands on grass. However, in this case her left foot slipped through the stirrup at the moment the horse decided it was time he caught up with his friends. The trail had been ridden in the same way for years so the path was a narrow and rather deep channel that kept her head and shoulder very close to his back hooves as he galloped along. Twisting her upper body as best she could she kept out of the way long enough for one of the trail guides to have seen what was happening and race back to stop her horse.

Luckily, she was all right once she'd been helped up and dusted off. Although the guide offered to walk her back to her parents in the main picnic ground she wanted to finish the ride. He helped her back into the saddle, adjusted the stirrups to a comfortable spot, and stayed close by from then on. There were even a couple of places where they raced with each other on the way back to the stables.

An hour or so later she was back with her parents in time for ice cream.
Her mother never mentioned the state of her dress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

tiny steps

I was probably about three when I began running away. Now don't imagine it was because I was badly treated because nothing could be less true, but right from the moment my parents removed the leash that was standard equipment in those days it was very difficult for them to keep me in one place. Of course, I don't remember much about being three any more than any of you would but there were always the stories and those vivid picture memories I've carried around since infancy.

When I was very young we lived in a little house on a street called Corporation Road in Gillingham, Kent. That's in England and the 'G' is soft. Down at the end of that street was a place known as the Strand, a big beach park on the River Medway not far from where it meets the sea. There was a huge salt water swimming pool, an ice cream shop, big boat swings, a band stand, and, best of all for me, a little steam driven train. I think it was a steam train but I may be wrong about that. I do remember the beach where I built sand castles with my father.

But I was talking about my tendency to slip away. I had no brothers or sisters, there was no television in 1949, and I was too young to know how to read. What I did have was a great deal of curiosity and a tendency to get bored with my dolls. This is one of the stories:

Our back garden had a wall and a hedge and a gate with a big lock. I must have been a very good climber.

Outside the gate was a long alley that lead straight down to the Strand. I knew my way.

I went to the little station and got on the train. I had no money but that didn't seem to matter. All the other children went home but I kept riding the train. The man driving it knew someone would come looking for me eventually. They did. I don't know if they had to pay for fifty trips around the Strand.

Times were different.