Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dig A Pony

I dig a pony
Well you can celebrate anything you want
Yes you can celebrate anything you want

Everything has got to be just like you want it to

It was a much simpler time when she began.  She was young and with the long flowing hair you expect to see on girls in elementary school.  The horse was at least three times her size so much so that she needed help just to make it up into the saddle. Once up there she did her best to control something that was clearly much larger and much stronger than she was.  At that time we had no idea that the muscle strength she struggled with would later be eclipsed by the strength of her heart to overcome her fear.

I can't remember when she first asked to try it, but I do remember the first time she rode.  One benefit of living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania is the availability of horse stables and riding lessons.  After some research, we picked a place and pulled into a gravel parking lot next to an aging stable.  The stone stable was built unlike anything I saw as a child, but became accustomed to in this area.  It was from the 1800s, was surrounded by vast fields, and seemed to quietly hold stories of the many riders who came through from the Civil War forward.  To this Southern California kid who has developed an appreciation for local history, it was cool.

We first met Jen Bucy, the owner of Hillside Stables, coming off the ring after helping another young girl learn to ride.  This was her stable and came well recommended.  She greeted us with a big smile and walked us through her training program.  We weren't sure if this would be something our daughter would pickup as a hobby or just a temporary fancy, but it didn't matter.  She was looking forward to doing something different and we were happy to oblige. Donna rode horses as a young girl and told stories of great times so it sounded like a fun thing for Emma as well.  I did not expect she would come to love it as much as she would.

In the months and years to come we spent many afternoons sitting on the grassy hill watching Emma make circles around the ring.  These were idyllic times where the world seemed perfectly aligned for our little one.  She was doing something she loved, was in a beautiful environment, and improving all the time.  I came to learn that horseback riding was not just an activity, but a bit of a lifestyle.  There were many afternoons I dropped her off not to ride, but so she could learn to groom the horses, muck the stalls, and do whatever else you do at a stable.  At times I was happy to help out as well, but did my best to let her be.  This was her place and her time to live in the beautiful land of innocence that lay all around.

Over time she struggled to get the horses to jump, canter, and all those other things they do.  This required strength in her arms, legs, and great posture all of which didn't respond, as they should have.  There were other girls that were moving into competitions and even some that got their own horses.  This was not to be for our Emma.  We had no idea her muscle strength was impacting her ability to do what the older girls were able to.  She looked just as good as the others, but seemed to plateau.  That was OK for me, but our little competitive one was frustrated.  

Months past by when she continued to ride, muck stalls, and spend time growing up next to the gentle giants, but over time the desire faded.  We are big advocates of our kids trying many things with the hope of finding a few things they love.  When we were younger we saw too many kids get pushed into one endeavor or another, only to get burned out and never return.  Our job is not to create an athlete, a musician, or a horseback rider, but to create good people who in the process might just find something they love.  So when she nervously came to us asking to stop riding we were surprised, but told her it was OK and recommended we look for something else she might enjoy.  Over time that became the clarinet and music.  

Fast-forward a few years...  These days the clarinet has been replaced by Yoga classes, an appreciation of flower arrangements, and an interest in business and literature.  This past summer she held three jobs, building up a bank account and more importantly new friends and experiences. Then, as summer was coming to a close the question came.  "Do you think I could try horseback riding again?"  She explained that she missed the innocence of those days at the stable, being around the horses, and spending hours just being a kid. She was not concerned with winning competitions or buying a horse.  She just wanted to do something she had walked away from, only to realize later it was something she truly loved.

On that first day back, you could tell she sensed the same excitement a little girl once had years before.  The stable looked the same, Jen was still there with open arms, but Emma was different.  She was not here to relive the past.  She was here to look forward. She was here to prove to herself that a little thing called Pompe would never keep her from the things she loved. So, just as she had done many times before, she walked right out of her comfort zone and into another adventure.  

I stayed long enough to reintroduce myself and take a quick look around, but quickly realized that this day was to be as emotional for me as it was for her.  It meant different things to each of us and she didn't need me around dampening the mood with never ending stories of yesteryear.  I so wanted to watch her get on that horse once again and ride around the ring, but she was no longer that 11-year-old girl with the flowing hair.  She is a young woman. 

I drove away waiting to hear the stories of her grand adventure and thinking.  I thought about how the years have past, but most of all I thought about how proud I was of my daughter.  While she had every justification to sit on the sidelines, she continues instead to choose the playing field.  Who knows where this attitude will take her in life, but I seem to think she will do quite well.

As Lennon and McCartney correctly wrote, 
  Well you can celebrate anything you want
  Yes you can celebrate anything you want

For now she is where she belongs, on the back of a horse amid the grass and trees, quietly celebrating her victory ... over fear.  Congrats! 

Ride on!

Credit to: The Beatles, "Dig A Pony"

Here's a photo of Emma at Hillside Stables with her 
Pompe InCommon ( global balloon,
showing the diverse things people with Pompe can achieve.