getting back on

Today, Grace got bucked off her horse; and then she got back on again.

I wouldn’t put so fine a point on this except for the fact that it’s kind of a big deal, falling from a height that’s farther from the ground than you are tall, simply because the animal you are working with got spooked. For his part, Emmett the horse stopped when he realized Grace wasn’t there anymore, as if he realized that something was amiss, something he might be responsible for. For her part, when Grace got back on, she had Emmett do exactly the same thing that he was supposed to be doing when he bucked her off, something they’d done plenty of times before. But the “next time,” right after that “one time,” is perhaps the most important instance of all.

I wouldn’t put so fine a point on this except it’s my daughter, my 12-year-old. Grace said she was glad we weren’t there to see it because the first thing going through her head when she was on the ground was the thought that, if her parents had witnessed it, they might not let her ride anymore. I don’t think that’s exactly true; but it’s still probably good that we didn’t see it happen. I told her that the act of literally getting right back on the horse qualifies as a pursuit that I won’t ever stop her from doing.

I wouldn’t put so fine a point on this except that when Grace and I attended a clinic on dressage and as I went back through the notes and transcripts filled with advice and instruction and very detailed diagnoses of riders and their horses and those relationships, there was never the “oh, and if you get bucked off” instruction. The book on dressage that I just returned to the library — probably at precisely the same time that Grace was riding — described how to place the bit and how to work the lunge line and even had a full chapter entitled, “XIV. Canter and Counter-Canter and Flying Changes of Leg,” whatever that means. But it says nothing about “when you are flung from the horse, please get back on the same beast that can repeatedly, on a whim, fling you to the ground again.” And when I had my own riding lesson, while I remember working through some “emergency stops” and ways to avoid disaster, there was never the conversation of “if you plummet to the ground because the horse decided, completely reasonably, that it doesn’t want you on its back anymore, please get back on the horse.”

Sometimes, things just go all kinds of pear-shaped. I’ve seen it with algebra, with finances, and especially with teaching. If you’ve taught for more than 17 minutes, you’ve had that moment or that class period or that week in which you realize that everything has been upended, and you’re going to have to fix it. Sometimes your entire class bucks you and you find yourself staring up at the sky and wondering what the hell happened. And if that’s week 3 of a 15-week semester, you need to get up.

It’s not the first time that I’ve been awed my daughter, and it’s not the last. I admire that she experienced the literal form of what is merely metaphorical for the rest of us. And, moreover, she showed through example how to deal with adversity in any learning situation: You just get right back on your horse.