Write Back On the Horse
Got to get back on the horse...
Said that to myself last week when I went on a writing-reboot retreat and again as I contemplated creating this blog after a long hiatus. I'd heard that phrase long before I ever got on a horse and I when I first fell of an actual horse (kindly named Mr. Rogers) I remember thinking, oh, I get that thing people say now! But a couple summers ago, I got a much better idea about what it really means.
I had the incredible fortune of getting to spend a month at the Jentel Artist Residency in Sheridan, Wyoming. During that time, I took a few field trip breaks to check out the place I was staying in, my absolute favorite being the day I went to the kids' rodeo practice. A woman with children busily competing took the time to graciously tell me more about what I was watching; I am grateful to her for taking the time because this city kid was completely enamored and impressed by the kids lassoing and racing: the toddler who sat balanced and upright all by herself on a big horse, the five year old boy who jumped off his horse to tie a ribbon round the goat's tail in record time, and the eight to twelve year old girls who urged their tall horses around barrels in ferociously graceful figure eights at whiplashing speed.
The girls riding in the barrel races thrilled me. Watching the way they sat astride the muscular backs of their horses with ease and confidence, the look of unapologetic ambition on their faces combined with the genuine support they gave to each other, I recalled a quote I've read somewhere that says the most powerful thing in the world is a confident twelve year old girl. I didn't know them, but I wanted them each to achieve their goals.
And then one of the girls fell.
She was about eight years old, in a purple plaid shirt, her hair flying out in braids from under her helmet as she rounded the barrels in what I was told was good time for her. She and her huge horse were flying. As they came out of the last barrel, the horse seemed not to want the ride to end, ran towards the exit, got too close to the large metal gate, and accidentally scraped his young rider off. She fell between the horse and the gate fast and hard. It looked like she may have hit her head and her arm definitely caught and turned at a gruesome angle between the metal slats. The watching crowd of parents, trainers, riders—and I— gasped. The community immediately ran to help. Those most needed got close, the rest gave her space at a visibly supportive distance. Her arm was extracted and her body checked with swift, capable gestures; I could hear murmurs, questions, and uplifting laughter. And then,
Up she went. Back on the horse—Right back on the horse. Within single-digit minutes of her fall.
Her arm wasn't broken; she hadn't hit her head, she'd scraped it, there were some scratches on her cheek. She was shaking; she was shaken. There were tears.
They helped her up, with hands and encouraging words.
"Your horse is worried about you...needs to know you're okay." They told her calmly.
"He is?" She asked
"Oh, yeah he his, come on, you have to show him you're alright."
So, to help assure her horse, she got right back on.
My host explained to me that if a young rider doesn't get right back on, if you wait a day, then the fear sets in. And instead of being able to mount their horse, their anxiety mounts instead, and they risk losing something they love. We all risk losing something we love, when fear sets in.
It isn't easy to fall and it isn't easy to watch someone else fall—especially a kid or someone you love. It's hard to let them take risks. I asked my host about that, if it was hard to watch her kids compete. She told me that the fear and concern doesn't go away, it's just that you form a kind of relationship with it. I think that's what bravery is. To be brave there needs to be fear to face or live with, first. Maybe pain to work through, too.
I know so many brave people of all ages. Right now I'm thinking about a writer friend of mine who came back to writing after a serious illness took her away from it for a long time. I'm thinking about the story someone wrote to me about a kindergartner who became withdrawn after the death of a special grandparent who is now reading Ida, Always to her school friends. I'm thinking of the people who've been hurt or arrested protesting for something they believe in, and return to go again. I'm thinking of men and women veterans who engage in their everyday with trauma sensations in their bodies telling them not to. I'm thinking of people who have been told they don't count, but are headed to vote next week. And I'm thinking of anybody whose heart gets broken or bruised by the loss or actions of an animal, person, or a system and keeps loving anyway.
Now, not all of us get back up seconds after we've fallen. Often times, the fear does set in, sticks around and snowballs for a while. That makes it feel tough, but every moment is still a moment we can climb back on. (Read After the Fall, by Dan Santat for gorgeous understanding and inspiration for kids and groan-ups) After all, your horse is waiting, wanting to know you're alright, so go ahead, get back on it, right now.
Write On the Horse Prompts:
Journal/Character Study Prompt: When was a time you or a character you're writing, fell (physically, mentally, or emotionally) off a "horse?" What sensations came with the fall? How did you/they get back on? Who or what helped? If you/they haven't gotten back on this horse yet, imaging how it's going to happen, write now.
Kid Prompt: Story-tell or act out a scenario where a kid falls of a horse (or a bike, etc.) Freeze the story after the fall. Ask kids to finish the story, what is the kid thinking or feeling? How will they get back on? Who will help them? What advice do they want to give?
And read After the Fall, by Dan Santat for more exploration of finding your way back up.