101 The Basics,  Horseback Riding,  Horseback Riding Stories,  Miscellaneous,  Other Adventures

Learning to Ride

Whit and Sandy

When I was a little girl, my mom befriended a young lady at church who went to college in our hometown. Her name was Sandy. She was from Nevada, where she grew up riding horses on her grandparents’ cattle ranch. My mom hired her to babysit me every now and then, but it wasn’t long before Sandy became part of the family. She was fun-loving, resourceful, sharp as a tack, and part country girl. She fit into our family like a missing puzzle piece.

Sandy was the only babysitter who, instead of hopping on the phone the instant my mom walked out the door, got down on my level and asked me how my day was going.

Sandy owned two Quarter horses—Jo Jack and Roany. Jo Jack was a tall buckskin horse with a long black mane and tail, and Roany was a short reddish horse with a buzz cut mane. Jo Jack was slow like molasses. Roany was fast and sprightly. Jo Jack was calm and unflappable. Roany was a loose cannon.

I don’t know what other girls my age did with their babysitters, but Sandy and I would put on our cowboy boots, pile in her red pickup, and head out to the stables.

Did I mention she was the coolest babysitter on planet earth?

I started out learning on Jo Jack. Jo Jack obediently followed beside me when I learned to lead him around the corral. He stood patiently tethered to the outside of his stable as I learned how to saddle him.

A year or two into my riding lessons, Sandy felt I had become skilled enough to try riding Roany, the spunky speed demon. That afternoon, as I put my boot in the stirrup and grabbed the saddlehorn, I felt brave. I was a  horseback rider.

I started Roany out at a slow walk, and warmed up by taking a few laps around the arena. I was cautious as I knew Roany could be unpredictable. We eased into a trot, and I adjusted my posture as Sandy taught me. Sandy stood in the center of the arena watching us.

Just as we were rounding the corner, Roany suddenly got spooked by something—A bird? A shadow? He lept forward with all the speed his muscular legs could muster.

Now would be a convenient time to mention quarter horses run the fastest quarter mile on record.

Roany was racing full speed ahead and wasn’t anything in front of us except open ground.

I pulled back on the reigns but it didn’t slow him one bit. I shouted , “Woooahhh” a few times but it was useless. Fear took over. I gripped the saddlehorn and started to cry.

Black and white flashed in the distance. Between Roany’s ears, I spotted Sandy in her black and white striped shirt throwing herself in the path of the horse. My blessed babysitter was going to stop that horse with her body.

Roany came to a complete stop in front of her. She grabbed the reins, yanked his head down to get him under control while barking discontent at him. Then, she came over to me with a sweet comforting smile and helped pull me off the saddle. She led me over to a nearby tree, tied up the horse, and we sat down in the dirt for a chat.

At that moment, I was about to give up horseback riding forever. But Sandy knelt down eye level with me, combed my hair behind my ear, and talked me down off the ledge.

Looking back, I realized there was a point when Sandy’s tone said, You’re getting back on that horse, girl, whether you like it or not. I must have known it would be futile fighting her, so I acquiesced. I learned two important lessons that day that every Texas girl should know:

  • Forgive God’s creatures
  • Get back in the saddle.

My mom always said she knew she was leaving me in good hands with Sandy. That day, Sandy proved that to be true on a new level.

Love you, Sandy.

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