(published in “Discovery Trails” magazine, Springfield, MO, April 2003)
“Leslie, it’s time to go.”
“Do you think I’m ready, Mr. Landis?” I asked as I sat in the saddle, shaking in my leather riding boots.
I asked the riding coach that because I had always been scared silly of horses. Too bad there aren’t saddles for pigs. They’re closer to the ground.
Scared silly or not, I always wanted to learn to ride a horse. Mom told me to just pray and smile whenever I was in the saddle, and I did just that.
My lessons every Saturday through the summer helped. Some. The saddle with the big seat and straps held me tight, and the hard hat made my head feel safe. Sally, the other coach, always walked right beside me and kept me from tumbling off.
Finally the day came that I could do it on my own, but only inside the corral. Going in circles made it easy, and I wasn’t afraid at all! My big roan, Lady, had no place to run. Besides … she was too tired.
But now it was different. It was autumn and time for my last lesson outside the corral—and without Sally. Mr. Landis and his pinto, Chief, were taking Lady and me on a trail ride.
While Mr. Landis got Chief ready, Lady swished flies with her tail. Me? I just prayed in the saddle and smiled.
“We’re going to ride through the woods and down the hill to the meadow, then circle back,” Mr. Landis said as he checked Lady’s cinch under my legs. “I know you can do it.”
But I would rather have hung by my toenails from the barn roof.
“Easy for you to say, Cowboy!” I wanted to say, but I kept my big mouth shut and just smiled.
“Here we go!” Mr. Landis shouted as he mounted Chief and took the lead.
I followed with a click-click of my tongue, a slap of the reins on my horse’s neck, and an earthquake in my stomach. Lucky for me, Lady was one breath away from dog meat. As usual, she was just too tired to run.
The colored leaves and bright blue sky made me forget how scared I was. I sucked in the fresh cool air and started having the greatest time of my riding life. Then—about half way down the trail—it happened.
Mr. Landis was singing some dumb cowboy song and I was smiling as we started down a slope on the trail.
Just as Mr. Landis glanced back to check on me, Chief tripped and, slick as a boulder on a ledge, Mr. Landis fell forward over his horse’s head and tumbled smack-dab onto the hard ground with his leg bent backward.
“SNAP!” I heard, and we both knew his leg was broken.
“Leslie…” Mr. Landis moaned as he lay there in a puddle of pain, “you’ve got to go back for help. Remember all you’ve … learned. Lady knows the way. Let her have her head.”
“Y-Yes, Sir,” I said, and in a second I forgot how scared I could be. Just one look at Mr. Landis sprawled on the ground told me I had to get help … and fast!
“Let’s go, Girl!” I commanded. I patted Lady on the neck, tugged both reins to the left, and turned her around on the hill.
Up the trail we went, doubling back over the same path.
When we got to the woods, all I could think of was poor Mr. Landis lying back there suffering. “God, please help him,” I prayed. I wasn’t even thinking about me!
I held tight to the horn of the saddle with one hand, click-clicked my tongue, and Lady started to trot. “Come on, Girl!” I shouted. “Mr. Landis needs help fast!”
For the first time in her life, Lady ran like the wind. She must have known.
In no time at all I reached the corral, screaming my head off about poor Mr. Landis.
Everyone except Sally ran in circles until the ambulance came. She hopped on a horse and tore off through the woods to find Mr. Landis.
Me? I just sat on Lady in front of her stall until Sally came back and unstrapped me. Then she pulled me down into my wheelchair. I didn’t feel much like smiling. All I could do was pray that Mr. Landis was OK.
He was. He got his cast off yesterday.